Conflict & Justice

Panetta woos India for post-war Afghanistan role


US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta (2nd L) inspects a guard of honor at the Ministry of Defense in New Delhi on June 6, 2012.

US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta pushed for India to take a broader role in post-war Afghanistan in meetings with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Defense Minister AK Antony this week. But positioning India as a counterbalance to Pakistan will create challenges of its own.

Panetta, who is on a two-day tour to Delhi, had an hour-long meeting with the prime minister at his residence on Tuesday, during which the leaders discussed Af-Pak related issues, as well as arms deals, India's Economic Times newspaper reported.

Various reports speculated that Panetta urged India to expand its role in Afghanistan beyond its current work in reconstruction, presumably to limit the influence that unsavory elements in Pakistan's so-called "deep state" can exercise there.

With US-Pakistan ties souring, the intended audience may well have been Islamabad as well as New Delhi, however.

The BBC reported that "emphasised the importance of India's role in providing security for Asia, including in Afghanistan," at Wednesday's meeting with Antony as well.

From India's perspective, however, other issues may be of greater concern.

According to, New Delhi is hoping that Panetta's visit can revive a lagging deal for the US to supply India with Javelin anti-tank missiles, which Washington reportedly "slashed in half" despite all the talk about tapping the Indian defense market.

Meanwhile, as analyst Raja Mohan puts it in his weekly column for the Indian Express:

"America has become an important supplier of arms to India. The armed forces of the two countries have more bilateral military exercises with each other than with any other country. Yet there is no denying the widespread sense that the momentum in bilateral defence relations has begun to lose steam."

But with common goals on balancing China's growing military might, stabilizing Afghanistan and securing the Indian Ocean, it seems that the US is the less reluctant partner.

"Washington is a lot more realistic now and is eager to deepen the defence partnership with India," Mohan writes. "As political India wakes up to a more complex security environment enveloping it, Delhi needs to demonstrate greater pragmatism in enhancing cooperation with Washington."