A US official has said that US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta will encourage India to play a 'more active role' in Afghanistan during his India visit.
US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta arrived in India on Tuesday to discuss Washington's plans to increase its military presence in the Asia-Pacific region as well as bilateral military ties with the Indian leadership.
The US Defense Secretary will hold talks with Indian Premier Manmohan Singh and Defense Minister AK Antony during his two-day visit.
Panetta is on the last leg of his Asian tour. He announced over the weekend that the US would deploy 60 percent of its navy ships to Asia-Pacific by 2020. The announcement was hailed by many Asia-Pacific countries including Australia and Singapore, but China lashed back at the US saying it sees a US plan to deploy more ships and giving prominence to a military and security agenda in Asia as "untimely."
New preference for India
A senior US defense official told AFP on condition of anonymity that the US wanted New Delhi to play a bigger role in war-torn Afghanistan and that this was one of the matters that would be discussed.
"Over the last 10 years, for a variety of reasons, India has not played a particularly active role in Afghanistan," the official said, adding the US would "welcome India playing a more active role in Afghanistan, a more active political and economic role."
So far Washington has been careful about not antagonizing India's arch-rival Pakistan and preferred India's limited role in Afghanistan, restricting it to development work and troop training.
India's increasing influence in Afghanistan is already worrying Islamabad, whose relation with the US has been under strain since the assassination of al Qaeda's former head Osama bin Laden by US marines in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad last year.
US officials have repeatedly expressed their lack of trust in Islamabad, who they allege is backing some Taliban groups to create instability in Afghanistan as most NATO troops prepare to withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
The US official acknowledged that the "historical mistrust" between India and Pakistan could "lead them to view their respective roles in Afghanistan as being in conflict." However, he said, this scenario could be avoided.
shs/rc (AFP, AP)