India is committed to not only continuing but also broadening its developmental efforts in Afghanistan, a top Pentagon official told lawmakers on Wednesday. US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis told lawmakers during a Senate hearing on South Asia that this is the sense he got in India during his meetings with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and National Security Adviser Ajit Doval. He was in India last week.
People of Afghanistan, he said, have come to have “a deep and abiding affection” for the Indian people. There’s a collaboration there, based on a very generous and enduring Indian government support for development of the Afghan society since the Soviet invasion, he said.
“They (Indian leadership) are committed to continuing and even broadening their development support and their support of the Afghan defence forces, in terms of repair of their equipment, training their officers and NCOs in their Indian military schools, and training the medical doctors and the medics for the Afghan army to take care of battlefield casualties,” he said.
Trump while announcing his new policy for Afghanistan had also praised India for its development efforts in the war-torn country.
Mattis said he believes that Prime Minister Modi’s efforts will actually be enhanced in the months and years ahead, based on the sense that “we are fully” committed.
“He can now commit more himself to the stability and prosperity of South Asia. It’s in all their best interests,” he said in response to a question from Senator Joni Ernest.
“Mr. Secretary, I know that you were in India. Can you explain to us their role — and how we can leverage them moving forward, and that whole-of-government support….what does that look like? What do you envision?” Ernest asked.
Responding to a question from Senator Tim Kaine, the Defence Secretary acknowledged that Pakistan does not like Indian investment in Afghanistan.
“I think the Pakistanis look at it with a degree of scepticism, if not distrust. However, in most cases, they can see it’s going to roads and to hospitals. So it’s hard to dispute the facts on the ground,” he said supporting Indian developmental efforts.
Mattis observed that Trump administration’s South Asia strategy is not an exclusive strategy.
“It is inclusive, for anyone who wants to stop killing of innocent (people), … (use) of terrorism, and restore prosperity and stability,” he said.
Pakistan should not perceive this as a strategy against it, the Defence Secretary said.