Panetta Tells India to Play More Active Role in Afghanistan

Posted June 5th, 2012 at 6:20 pm (UTC-5)
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U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has urged Indian leaders to take a more active role in Afghanistan after arriving in New Delhi Tuesday for two days of talks aimed at expanding defense ties.

At the beginning of his first visit to India as defense secretary, Panetta met with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon. During the meeting, India agreed to allow the United States to resume efforts to recover the remains of about 400 missing troops and 90 aircraft which crashed in India during World War II.

Panetta is also expected to lay the groundwork for the U.S.-India Strategic Dialogue scheduled for next week in Washington and focus on India's role in Afghanistan as most of the international combat troops are scheduled to withdraw by the end of 2014, and China's increasing economic and military power in the South China Sea.

India has provided $2 billion in aid to Afghanistan, and last October the two countries signed a strategic agreement pledging deeper security and economic ties. India is already helping Afghan security forces prepare for the withdrawal, but still has concerns about the country's stability and a possible return to Taliban control after the international forces leave.

The talks between Panetta and Indian officials also centered on what the Pentagon calls “Asia re-balancing.” Panetta told a security forum in Singapore Saturday the U.S. Navy would shift the majority of its ships to the Pacific by 2020 as part of a strategic focus on Asia.

During his policy speech in New Delhi Wednesday, Panetta is expected to spell out U.S. strategic goals with India.

U.S. officials say India can help promote security and stability in the Indian Ocean region and the South Asian country has been singled out in the new U.S. strategy.