00:37 GMT29 March 2020
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    US Secretary of Defense James Mattis has arrived in New Delhi to discuss arms sales and India’s involvement in Afghanistan in his first visit since Donald Trump became president of the United States.

    Mattis arrived in India late Monday to meet with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, who assumed office earlier in September.

    "India from our perspective is clearly a pillar of regional stability and security: we share a common vision for a peaceful and prosperous future in the Indo-Pacific region," Mattis said in an interview during his flight, according to the Gulf Times.

    According to various media reports, there are two major topics on Mattis's agenda: arms sales and Afghanistan.

    In general, India is in need of a sizable and diverse fleet of planes, drones and helicopters. The issue is complicated by Modi's "Make in India" policy, under which India seeks to replace off-the-shelf purchases of military tech with the establishment of joint production on Indian soil. Some experts argue New Delhi actually seeks to acquire the technology itself, something the US is reluctant to provide.

    As Sputnik reported last week, a letter by US-India Business Council (UIBC) implied that US companies are less than enthusiastic to hand over technologies to New Delhi.

    "Control of proprietary technologies is a major consideration for all companies exploring public and private defense partnerships," the letter reads.

    Another issue raised in the letter is that US companies do not want to be held responsible for any defects in weapons produced by joint enterprises.

    "We recommend the Ministry of Defense affirm that foreign OEMs [Original Equipment Manufacturers] will not be liable for defects outside their company's control," the UIBC said.

    This, along with other smaller issues, such as US reluctance to provide India with advanced strike drones, has led experts to believe no major arms deals will be made during this visit.

    The other matter is Afghanistan. Earlier this week, the US Department of Defense said Mattis "will express US appreciation for India's important contributions toward Afghanistan's democracy, stability, prosperity, and security."

    Trump recently announced a new Afghanistan strategy that involves sending thousands more US troops to the war-torn country. In the meantime, Trump urged India to increase its commitment to helping Afghanistan. On the surface, India seems to be interested in preventing the spread of terrorism, as Afghan terrorists target Indian cities quite as willingly as they do European ones.

    But Indian soldiers are not expected on Afghan soil; instead New Delhi's role remains limited to building roads, dams and other infrastructure.

    "We want them to help us more with Afghanistan, especially in the area of economic assistance and development," Trump said in August.

    India has already invested some $2 billion in Afghanistan and pledged to invest $1 billion more. An analysis by the Washington Post points out that Pakistan, India's perennial rival, lies inconveniently between the two countries. The long-time rival of New Delhi has been criticized for providing safe havens for various terrorist groups that operate in Afghanistan and abroad. Should India increase its commitment to Afghanistan, Islamabad may counter it by simply increasing its support for the terrorists, the Washington Post notes.

    Why would they do that? Well, Islamabad views Afghanistan as a threat to its interests; with help from the US and India, Kabul is even more likely to lean toward these two countries, leaving Pakistan stranded between two adversaries.

    Even if India decides to get involved in Afghanistan militarily, moving a considerable expeditionary force to the Central Asian state will require cooperation with Iran, the newspaper points out. And the US is not exactly on the best of terms with Iran right now. Besides, the Indian Army has rather limited experience when it comes to fighting abroad, the Washington Post notes.

    With all the above, despite the optimistic tone with which US military news outlets describe Mattis's visit, major shifts in India's involvement in Afghanistan are not to be expected.


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    Narendra Modi, arms deal, military cooperation, James Mattis, India, Afghanistan, United States, Pakistan
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