US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta is in India to encourage the country to play a more active role in the Afghanistan conflict. The US also seeks to curtail Chinese dominance in Asia by strengthening military ties with the emerging power.
Panetta’s two-day tour round India is part of Washington’s initiative to further establish its influence in Asia, using the country as a key platform.
The US defense secretary is in negotiations with his Indian counterpart in which the NATO presence in Afghanistan and China’s rising power are expected to take center stage.
Pentagon spokesperson George Little said that Panetta "underscored the link India plays between East and West Asia and how the United States views India as a net provider of security from the Indian Ocean to Afghanistan and beyond."
New Delhi has thus far played a neutral role in the Afghanistan conflict, providing the country with $2 billion in aid. Last year the two countries signed a strategic agreement, promising stronger economic and security ties.
However, in view of the US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014 US officials say Panetta will talk to Indian leaders about the possibility of training Afghan troops and security forces.
Washington is after India’s support to reach Afghanistan now that Pakistan is growing hostile, says Brian Becker, a coordinator of the anti-war ANSWER coalition. The NATO presence in Afghanistan has been rapidly losing support following numerous US drone strikes that have led to significant casualties.
“The US is seeking to build an Indian-Karzai access which would enable the US to maintain its positions in Afghanistan long after 2014 – the time for purported withdrawal of US combat troops. The US wants to keep military bases in Afghanistan and obviously needs a partner. That puts Pakistan in a precarious situation,” Becker told RT.
The US maintains the drone attacks are highly effective against Al Qaeda’s cross-border insurgency, but the Pakistani government condemns them as illegal and a violation of the country’s sovereignty.
Watch RT's interview with Brian Becker
The talks with the Indian leader with also encompass what has been dubbed by the US as “Asia re-balancing.”
Panetta announced at a security forum in Singapore on Saturday that the US Navy would be moving the majority of its fleet to the Pacific by 2020.
China has condemned the plans as “untimely” and appealed to the US to respect Chinese authority in the region. The two have been jostling for power in Asia with the US selling millions of dollars of weapons to China’s rival Taiwan.
“I do see a conflict … the US is worried about China. Worried in the sense that it finds it a major competition for this influence. China is very clear that it wants to replace the American influence in Asia,” Bharat Verma, from the Indian Defense Review told RT’s Priya Sridhar.
India is currently the world’s number one arms importer and buys up most of its weapons from the US. Since 2000 it has invested around $8.5 billion in American military hardware to modernize its armed forces.
However, some believe that New Delhi should not pander to the US over Chinese interests. John Cherian of frontline magazine stressed to RT that “China is one of India’s biggest trading partners” and as such cannot be ignored.
“We should not be made a proxy by other powers to confront China. We should not fight the battles of Americans,” said Cherian, adding that America is a “declining superpower” and will not be able “to hold their ground in the Asia Pacific.”