New Delhi: US National Security Adviser (NSA) Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster Tuesday re-affirmed India’s position as the US’s “major defence partner” during talks with his Indian counterpart Ajit Doval and Prime Minister Narendra Modi before ending his first visit to South Asia, which also included stops in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
McMaster is the senior-most official of the Donald Trump administration to visit India and South Asia since Trump was sworn in as President of the US on 20 January. He was seen as key in developing US military’s counter-insurgency strategy under General David Petraeus, while serving as his special assistant while Petraeus commanded US troops in Iraq from 2007 to 2008. McMaster was also deployed in Afghanistan in 2010.
A US embassy statement said McMaster had “productive meetings” with Modi, Doval, and foreign secretary Subrahmanyam Jaishankar.
“NSA McMaster emphasized the importance of the US-India strategic relationship and reaffirmed India’s designation as a ‘major defence partner’. The two sides discussed a range of bilateral and regional issues, including their shared interest in increasing defence and counterterrorism cooperation,” the US statement said.
It was the previous Obama administration that had designated India as a “major defence partner” of the US last year and McMaster’s reiteration signifies a continuation of policy by the Trump administration.
A statement from Modi’s office said McMaster “shared his perspective with the prime minister on the security situation in the extended region, including in Afghanistan, West Asia and the DPRK (North Korea). During the conversation, they exchanged views on how both countries can work together to effectively address the challenge of terrorism and to advance regional peace, security and stability.”
New Delhi would have also watched with great interest McMaster’s meetings with top leaders of Pakistan and Afghanistan on Sunday and Monday, respectively.
According to a report in Pakistan’s Express Tribune newspaper on Tuesday, McMaster called on Pakistan to confront “terrorism in all its forms” in a statement issued on Monday, “suggesting that President Donald Trump administration may put renewed pressure on Islamabad”.
In another comment made to Afghanistan’s Tolonews channel, McMaster said, “We hope that Pakistani leaders will understand that it is in their interest to go after these groups (of terrorists) less selectively than they have in the past and that the best way to pursue their interests in Afghanistan and elsewhere is through diplomacy and not through the use of proxies who engage in violence.” The comment has gone down well in India.
India has been pressing Pakistan to end cross border terrorism against it using terrorist groups as “proxies.” New Delhi has also been insistent that Islamabad rein in terror groups operating from its soil before resuming peace talks on a range of subjects that include the dispute over Kashmir.
On Afghanistan, McMaster had indicated in his Tolonews interview that the US would remain involved in Afghanistan, supporting the Afghan national security force and army in their fight against the Taliban.
In Pakistan, McMaster held a series of meetings with civil and military authorities, including Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, PM’s adviser on national security and foreign affairs Sartaj Aziz, Express Tribune reported on its website.
“The purpose of his regional tour is to assess the situation on ground, especially in Afghanistan before the Trump administration announces its policy,” the report said. “The emphasis on fighting terrorism in all its forms indicated that the visiting US delegation was far from convinced with Pakistan’s position that its anti-terror campaign was indiscriminate,” it added.
“The Pakistani side conveyed its concerns and perspective on the current regional situation, particularly in Afghanistan as well as tensions with India,” it said.