Attempting to placate Pakistani concerns that the move would bring their long-time rival militarily to their northern border, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta today insisted that his calls for a larger role for the Indian military in the ongoing occupation of Afghanistan had been misunderstood, and that Indian troops would be “limited” to training operations inside Afghanistan.
Bringing Indian forces into Afghanistan in any major way would be a game-changer for Pakistan, which has always relied on Afghan territory as a fall-back position in the event of an Indian invasion. Pakistan has regularly expressed concern about the close relationship between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the Indian government.
Panetta’s previous comments had only said that he was pushing for India to take an “active role” in the ongoing war. The Indian government has provided reconstruction aid, but has so far stopped short of any major military missions.
The US has been keen to increase military ties with India as a way to justify a major presence in Asia, countering China. With much of NATO hoping to pull out of Afghanistan at the end of 2014, the US ambitions to stay through at least 2024 are leaving them short of military allies, and they may hope India may fill that void.