Tuesday, 30 November 2010
Washington, July 9 : India and the United States will be discussing NATO troop withdrawals and the transition process in Afghanistan during the second India-US Strategic Dialogue to be held in New Delhi during the third week of July, a senior U.S. State Department official said.
Participating in a web chat with Indian journalists from Washington, Robert O. Blake, Jr., Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs, said: " I think there's been a lot of misunderstanding about the levels of troop withdrawals that the United States will make. These are relatively modest. We remain fully committed to the NATO process of transition whereby Afghanistan will assume responsibility for its own security by the end of 2014. So, we will continue to work very closely with India on this and to consult very closely, and I expect this will be a very important part of our strategic dialogue consultations."
He said that Washington has a tremendous respect and admiration for the steps that India is taking to expand its own cooperation with Afghanistan, adding that the Indian Government's decision to provide two billion dollars in assistance to Afghanistan would tremendously help what he called an "important transition process that is underway now in Afghanistan."
"The United States is fully committed to supporting that transition process, but also to helping Afghanistan to build up its economy so that it can rely more on trade and its own development and less on aid. So we have a very important role to play in that and India has a very important role to play," he added.
As regards America's participation in a framework for any engagement with Taliban, Blake said:" This is going to be an Afghan-led process. The Afghan government already has begun this process through the establishment of a High Peace Council which itself has had numerous meetings inside Afghanistan. So this is something that we very much want to support."
He added: "We ourselves have established some red lines about who we think should be allowed to participate in such a dialogue, and that includes people who are prepared to renounce violence, who are prepared to renounce their ties to al-Qaida, and who are prepared to agree to abide by the terms of the Afghan constitution. So, we believe those would be a very good way of ensuring that people that do engage would be committed to the long term stability and prosperity of Afghanistan."
When specifically asked about how the United States saw India's role evolving in terms of civilian aid to Afghanistan, and whether there would be specific limitations on India's post-war presence in Kabul, the Assistant Secretary said: " I would just like to express my government's support for the steps that India already has taken to expand its activities in Afghanistan. The lion's share of the two billion dollars that India has committed are devoted to infrastructure development which is going to be an increasingly important priority for the United States as well."
He added: "We think that it's vital to not only develop the roads, the rail systems, the electricity and other kinds of infrastructure that will enable Afghanistan to get on its own two feet economically, but it's also important for us to do whatever we can to help some of the very important regional infrastructure projects that are already underway such as the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India pipeline and projects such as the CASA-1000 Project, the Central Asia South Asia electricity transmission line that is now under consideration as well."
"So these are things that would have a tremendous impact, not only in helping Afghanistan but also helping to build the trade and investment networks and open those up so that there can be a much more vigorous trade and investment between the countries of Central Asia, the countries of South Asia, and particularly the huge markets of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh that could help so much the development not only of Afghanistan but also Pakistan and Central Asia," Blake said.