Mattis, Sitharaman talk Afghanistan, terror and cooperation in the Indo-Pacific - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Tuesday 26 September 2017

Mattis, Sitharaman talk Afghanistan, terror and cooperation in the Indo-Pacific

India could step up aid, but no “boots on the ground” in Afghanistan

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 27th Sept 17

In what she termed “substantive, constructive and forward-looking talks” in New Delhi on Tuesday, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and her US counterpart, Defense Secretary James Mattis, pressed all the right buttons in affirming a growing common ground between Washington and New Delhi.

“From our discussions today, I am confident that we are entering a new phase in our strategic defence partnership with the United States”, said Sitharaman.

In talks that went on for half an hour longer than scheduled, the two sides discussed military-to-military engagements and exercises; supply of high-tech US weaponry to India; curbing cross-border terrorism, especially emanating from Pakistan; and the regional issues of Afghanistan and the Indo-Pacific.

One of Mattis’ major objectives on this trip was to understand New Delhi’s response to President Donald Trump’s call last month for India to provide more “economic assistance and development” to Afghanistan.

At a media briefing by the two defence ministers after their dialogue, Sitharaman rejected the idea of sending Indian military troops to fight in Afghanistan. She said that during the talks, she had “made it very clear that there shall not be boots from India on the ground.”

Instead, Sitharaman pointed to India’s long-running developmental support to Afghanistan through building dams, hospitals, schools and institutions, including the new Parliament building in Kabul. She highlighted training and medical facilities provided to Afghans in India. “India’s contribution has been on these grounds and we shall expand if necessary”, said Sitharaman.

The two sides also discussed what Sitharaman flagged as “the growing menace of cross-border terrorism”, specifically that emanating from Pakistan. Mattis declared: “There can be no safe havens anywhere in the world for terrorism. We intend to work closely with India, and like-minded nations, as we eradicate this.”

Questioned about whether she had specifically raised the issue of terrorists being given safe haven in Pakistan, Sitharaman pointed out that Mattis had told Prime Minister Narendra Modi in their meeting that “The very same forces which find safe haven in Pakistan have been the ones who hit at New York as much as Mumbai.”

She revealed that she requested Mattis that “[I]f and when, he would visit Pakistan, he would be able to speak out on these issues and take them up [with the Pakistani leadership].”

With Washington encouraged by New Delhi’s assertiveness during the Doklam stand off with China, there was close agreement on stepping up cooperation in the Indo-Pacific.

“India supports the freedom of navigation, over-flight and unimpeded lawful commerce. We also believe that disputes should be resolved through peaceful means and in accordance with the universally recognized principles of international law. I am happy to note that Secretary Mattis reaffirmed the US position in support of these principles”, said Sitharaman.

Mattis spelt out a vision of what India could expect from its designation by the US last year as a “major defense partner”. He said the designation “recognizes India as a pillar of regional stability and security, and reflects our desire for a long-term strategic partnership in the 21st century.”

While security would be “one of the key strategic pillars” in the wide-ranging new relationship; Mattis said his goal was “delivering defense interoperability aligned with Prime Minister Modi’s and President Trump’s direction.”

“Expanding maritime engagement is one of my top priorities”, said Mattis, indicating that the navy-to-navy relationship would remain a key driver of defence cooperation. He particularly highlighted the Annual Maritime Security Dialogue as a mechanism for developing a shared understanding of challenges in the Asia-Pacific region.

While specific defence sales were not highlighted, the two sides discussed deepening the Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI). “We look forward to sharing some of our most advanced defence technologies through the DTTI”, said Mattis.


  1. he came empty handed and left that way!!
    they would be lucky if they can get the drones contract closed before the next elections. rest of the projects will remain in limbo.
    decision on teen series fighters will happen only by 2020 or beyond so until then take a sabbatical :)

  2. We should concentrate on indigenous R&D and develop the weapons we require. How long should we go on importing? Shameless MoD,IA,IAF and IN are looking this country and making our bright students to look for opportunities in foreign lands.

  3. Thanks for a perceptive analysis, Ajai. You already know my position on close ties with US. I am against it because US cannot be relied on to think/act rationally. I mean, why is US in Afghanistan for 16-years anyway? They wanted revenge on OBL, instead of paying off the Taliban to cooperate ( a mere $25-million/year at that time), US has ended up spending hundreds of billions without any idea of what they're doing. I say this as a long-term resident of US since 1960 bar 20-yrs in India, and with every single family member being US citizens. My objections are not based on xenophobia, or dislike of Americans etc.

  4. The Paks next door are about to produce their 100th JF-17. Yes 100th. They are currently working on its 3rd iteration. It is slated to have ASEA + IRST. It already has internal MAWS, IFR. Whilst we are still trying to import, import and yep import.

    No, its not the same as our Su-30MKIs. They produce it from raw materials that are sourced locally. Even the raw materials or our Su-30MKI come from mother Russia. What a shame. We the super dooper poower, yet can't even operate a single fighter in our total control.

    Let Tejas fly ...



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