ppostnews: The US secretary of defense, retired Lieutenant General James Mattis, has a two-point agenda for his trip starting September 25: get New Delhi to commit to purchasing the Lockheed Martin F-16 Block 70 combat aircraft along with its assembly line under the aegis of the bilateral Defense Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI), and to give assurances that India’s Afghanistan policy will not undercut the American strategy to prevent the restoration of Taliban rule in Kabul. The F-16, a 1970s-era aircraft with zero potential for further development, is a hard sell. The Afghanistan issue will be just as tricky because, from the Indian perspective, the Pakistan angle skews what’s asked of India.
On the other issue, as a former head of the US Central Command Mattis appreciates Pakistan’s indispensability as base for military operations to bring the Taliban in Afghanistan to their knees. But Islamabad has insisted that India’s role in Afghanistan be restricted and complained about the Indian support for the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) accused by Islamabad of terrorism in Pakistan. The RAW-TTP link was publicly revealed in April this year by its former commander, Ehsanullah Ehsan.
Mattis’ request that India moderate its support for TTP will put Delhi in a fix because TTP is useful as an Indian counterpart of the Hizbul Mujahideen, Lashkar-e-Toiba, and Jaish-e-Mohammad deployed by the Pakistan Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in Jammu & Kashmir. Severing relations with TTP will mean India surrendering an active card in Pakistan and a role in Afghanistan as TTP additionally provides access to certain Afghan Taliban factions. This, together with the Abdul Ghani regime’s desire for India’s presence and the tested friendship with Abdul Rashid Dostum and his Tajik-dominated ‘Northern Alliance’, ensures that no solution for peace in Afghanistan can be cobbled together without India’s help.
Mattis’ returning home empty-handed will not hurt relations with the US at all because there’s China; and the US needs India to strategically hinder it.