India key partner in Afghan plans: US envoy

Published February 6, 2015
US Ambassador Richard Verma.—Reuters/File
US Ambassador Richard Verma.—Reuters/File

NEW DELHI: The United States sees India as a key partner in Afghanistan’s future for which high-level consultations are planned, US Ambassador Richard Verma said here on Thursday.

“We recognise India is a key partner in Afghanistan’s future, and we look forward to continuing to discuss and engage with India during upcoming high-level consultations on Afghanistan,” the envoy said.

He was addressing a conference sponsored by Delhi-based Vivekanand Inter­national Foundation. The think-tank was until recently headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s handpicked National Security Adviser Ajeet Doval. The meeting’s American sponsor was the right-wing Heritage Foundation.

Also read: Obama’s India visit

President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Modi spoke of their shared commitment to promote a secure, stable, and prosperous Afghanistan, Mr Verma said. “Although the US combat mission ended in December 2014, we will continue to support the Afghan government as it pursues a future of peace... and an end to conflict.

“Acting under Resolute Support Mission, US forces in Afghanistan will have two primary missions in the coming years: working with Nato counterparts to train, advise, and assist Afghan National Security Forces, and maintaining a counter-terrorism capability.”

The envoy recalled that President Obama had said in New Delhi recently that the two countries “are not just natural partners but we believe America can be India’s best partner”. The transformation was expected to be the envoy’s chief goal.

Mr Verma did not refer to a spate of analytical criticisms in the Indian media of the civil nuclear cooperation agreement between Mr Obama and Mr Modi. He said, however, that the two “were able to find common ground and reach understandings to overcome longstanding obstacles to increased commercial engagement in this important area”.

Critics believe the agreement aimed to transfer the burden of any damage or disasters on the Indian exchequer. They say there were yet several other legal loopholes to be covered.

Mr Verma saw the agreements as “advances (that) will provide a foundation to move forward and fulfil the vision of US-built reactors contributing to India’s energy security and promoting Prime Minister Modi’s goal of moving away from carbon-based energy sources and delivering electricity to the hundreds of millions of Indians who lack reliable access to it”.

Welcoming India’s quest to join the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) club, the recently appointed ambassador found occasion to speak on the region’s security challenges.

“Shipping lanes and air routes are the veins and arteries that keep our economies alive. In recognition of this fact, our leaders also recognised that we can do much more to safeguard maritime security, ensure freedom of navigation and overflight throughout the region, and promote peace and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean region.”

Mr Verma was speaking after a meeting with the prime minister earlier on Thursday and before another one planned with the new foreign secretary.

“Looking to the future, expanding our bilateral naval exercise MALABAR by regularising the participation of Japan, and elevating our trilateral dialogue with Japan to the ministerial level, are lines of effort that can move us in this direction,” he said.

Perhaps the truest test of a friendship between countries is the degree to which their armed forces trust and collaborate with each other, Mr Verma said, adding that ties between the US and Indian defence establishments had taken “immense strides forward” during Mr Obama’s visit.

“Just a few years ago who could have imagined that the United States and India would have agreed to establish a joint working group on aircraft carrier technology?” Mr Verma said.

“No example better illustrates the new course of our collaborative relationship than the decision by the US and Indian defence establishments and private sectors to pursue co-development and coproduction of defence articles. This is the type of defence collaboration we have with our closest partners. The US defence industry will now make Bangalore and Hyderabad important sources for cutting edge technology.”

India and the US can and should deepen collaboration to combat the spectrum of terrorist threats, he said. In that endeavour, the US and the international community have made significant progress since 9/11 in developing the use of sanctions as a tool for targeting terrorists and terrorist networks.

Published in Dawn, February 6th, 2015

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