NEW DELHI: Even as US President Donald Trump called on India to play a bigger security role in Afghanistan, ridiculing in the process Prime Minister Narendra Modi for having built what he incorrectly claimed was a library, New Delhi brushed the put-down aside, saying there was no question of “putting boots on the ground”.
The government hit back, with sources here saying India’s developmental assistance to the war-torn country, which exceeds $3 billion, can transform human lives there. In what was seen as a deeply offensive remark, Trump had described India’s assistance as “five hours of what we spend”.
Trump, who seems to have mistaken Afghanistan’s Parliament building built by India for a library, was prodding New Delhi to do more in Afghanistan militarily but India would have none of it. The US president’s comments came in the context of his defence of the decision to pull out of Afghanistan, with many arguing that this harms American security interests and lets down allies. India has consistently resisted deploying active military personnel except as part of UN missions.
The Vajpayee government did not send troops as part of the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 after a brief in-house debate and this has not changed even in the case of nearby Afghanistan.
India is largest donor to Afghanistan in region
Government sources here reiterated India’s position that the country does not send its armed forces abroad except under “the specific mandate of UN Peacekeeping operations”.
In his first 2019 cabinet meeting, Trump called for Russia, India and Pakistan to shoulder more responsibility for Afghanistan’s security.
“I could give you an example, you know I get along with India and the PM Modi, and he’s constantly telling me he built a library in Afghanistan,” Trump said. “You know what that is? That’s like five hours of what we spend. And he tells it — and he’s very smart — and we’re supposed to say, ‘Oh, thank you for the library’. I don’t know who’s using it in Afghanistan,” he added, in remarks considered offensive even by the Afghan authorities.
Sources said India’s partnership with Afghanistan was built on the specific requirements worked out with the Afghan government.
“It is aimed at the welfare of the people of Afghanistan and for a tangible improvement in the lives of its people. India seeks to build capacities and capabilities of Afghan nationals and its institutions for governance and delivery of public service, develop socio-economic infrastructure, secure lives and promote livelihood,” said a government source while elaborating on India’s ties with Afghanistan.
This is the first time that the US has sought to trivialise India’s efforts in rebuilding Afghanistan after the US war to oust Taliban. The Obama administration had always lauded India’s contribution and the role it played in improving the lives of people. While India remains open to supplying military equipment and has even gifted attack choppers to the government in Kabul, the government has steadfastly maintained that it won’t put boots on the ground.
With its assistance exceeding $3 billion, India is the largest donor to Afghanistan in the region. The government sees its partnership with Afghanistan as based on five pillars — infrastructure projects, humanitarian assistance, connectivity, capacity-building and economic development. India’s infrastructure projects, like the Zaranj-Delaram road and Salma Dam, which has been generating electricity since 2016 and releases water to irrigate 75,000 hectares of land, have generated a lot of goodwill with locals, sources said.