New Delhi (Sputnik) — India has cleared the air regarding any possibility they'll engage militarily in Afghanistan under the South Asia policy of the US. During a joint press conference with visiting US Defense Secretary James Mattis, Indian Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said that India will continue with its developmental and medical assistance to Afghanistan but will not send troops.
Speculation about the deployment of Indian troops in Afghanistan had been fueled by last month's announcement of America's new South Asia policy.
"There shall not be any boots on the ground from India," Sitharaman said in response to questions in New Delhi on Tuesday.
"As you are aware, India welcomed [US President Donald Trump's] new US strategy for Afghanistan announced last month. Today, I had useful discussions with Secretary Mattis on how we could strengthen our cooperation bilaterally as well as with the government of Afghanistan in pursuit of our common objective of a peaceful, democratic, stable and prosperous Afghanistan," Sitharaman said in a joint statement.
Mattis landed in India on Monday for his maiden visit, the first by a cabinet member of the Trump administration. "As we work to strengthen our defense relationship, we seek to expand our co-operation in building partnerships across the region. In particular, we applaud India's invaluable contributions to Afghanistan and welcome further efforts to promote Afghanistan's democracy, stability and security," Mattis said.
Experts in India welcomed the statement and said that it does not suit India to position its troops in the landlocked country. "You need a secure air, rail or road access to Afghanistan to maintain 24/7 support to our military that is not possible in the current scenario as you cannot use it through Pakistan and the Iran route is also not feasible in the backdrop of tension between Tehran and Washington. Therefore, in this kind of uncertainty, you cannot position your forces in Afghanistan and make them operate over there," retired Brigadier Rumel Dahiya, a defense and strategic analyst, told Sputnik.
The Indian government had announced defense assistance to Afghanistan including 116 High Impact Community Development Projects in 31 provinces earlier this month. In the last 15 years, India has pledged assistance worth over $3 billion towards various capacity building and infrastructure development projects and has successfully implemented several large, medium and small development projects spread across Afghanistan.