Panetta calls for greater strategic ties with India | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 06.06.2012
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Panetta calls for greater strategic ties with India

New Delhi and Washington have agreed on broadening defense ties and reviewing their military and strategic partnership as US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta wraps up his India visit.

At the end of his two-day visit, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the US wanted to see a bigger role for India in the region as the US shifts its strategic focus to Asia.

Panetta, who was in India on the last leg of his Asian tour, 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."

Leon Panetta talks to crew members of a US navy ship in Cam Ranh Bay

China is concerned about US' strategic focus on Asia-Pacific

In New Delhi, Panetta held talks with Indian Premier Manmohan Singh, National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon and Defence Minister AK Antony. Officials of the two countries will meet again next week in Washington for another crucial round of strategic talks.

Strategic focus on Asia

Military cooperation between India and the United States has increased manifold in recent years. India is now one of the biggest buyers of the US military hardware. Nancy Powell, the US ambassador to India, recently said that more defense deals worth 8 billion dollars (6.42 billion euros) between India and the US were in the pipeline. Intelligence sharing between the two countries has also increased after the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks.

“Indo-US relations show no signs of flagging and are moving from strength to strength," Lalit Mansingh, former Indian ambassador to the US, told DW.

"Both countries face common security challenges. The US wants India to be a main partner in its new strategic focus on Asia,” Lalit said.

India's bigger role in Afghanistan

Afghan President Hamid Karzai (L), former King of Afghanistan Zahir Shah, and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (R)

Relations between Afghanistan and India have imporoved under Afghan President Karzai's rule

According to the US embassy in New Delhi, Panetta underscored “the link India plays between east and west Asia, and how the US views India as a net provider of security from the Indian Ocean to Afghanistan and beyond.”

On Tuesday, 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.

"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.

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.

Author: Murali Krishnan

Editor: Shamil Shams

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