After US Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken’s remark over Washington being “deeply engaged” with India for “over-the-horizon” capabilities to keep a check on Afghanistan and the new Taliban regime there, speculations are rife over India being considered as a possible base for US forces’s offensive against Taliban.
Testifying on the first day of the Congressional hearing—Afghanistan 2001-2021: Evaluating the Withdrawal and US Policies—Blinken made it clear that the US is also engaged with India on the growing influence of Pakistan in the Taliban regime.
However, the mandarins of South Block are clear in their approach and have denied allowing the US into Indian soil for its operation against the Taliban regime. And, this is not the first time such speculations are around, as a similar situation existed when US-led forces attacked Afghanistan in 2001.
"India has a firm policy on the issue. It does not allow any country to use its soil for carrying out military operations against anyone (any nation). As of now, there is no discussion on the issue. Rest is a call by the political leadership," said a key official in the South Block, which houses the ministry of defence.
On being asked whether India is a priority, given that it neighbours Afghanistan, Blinken said, “We are deeply engaged with India across the board. With regard to any specifics about over-the-horizon capabilities and plans that we put in place and will continue to put in place, I’d rather take it up in a different setting.”
Though, some observers believe that India should open its doors for the US to carry out offensive, but the situation may create trouble for the government. During the 1991 Gulf war, former prime minister Chandrashekhar’s government made a similar move when it allowed the US military's C141 transport aircraft deployed to the Persian Gulf to refuel at the Mumbai airport. The government's decision created ruckus in the parliament after the Left parties and Congress leader Rajiv Gandhi argued against the government for providing the facility at a point when the US was bombing Iraq. All opposition parties except the BJP criticised the Chandrashekhar government and Rajiv Gandhi even threatened to withdraw Congress support for the government.
In the past decade, Indo-US relation has been on its peak, and India is designated as a major defence partner by the Washington. After Prime minister Narendra Modi-led government came to power, India and US have signed the long-pending foundational agreement. Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) was signed in 2016, followed by the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA), which was signed in 2018, and then the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) in 2020.
The COMCASA aims to facilitate interoperability between the two militaries and sale of high-end technology and further operationalised the 2016 Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA).
Under LEMOA, in September 2020, a US Navy aircraft, P-8 Poseidon, refuelled for the first time at India’s strategic base in Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
BECA is to share real-time geospatial intelligence that will enhance the accuracy of automated systems and weapons like missiles and armed drones.
When asked about US's intentions to use Indian soil against the Taliban, a former Indian army commander said: "Pakistan is longer an ally of the US against its war against Taliban. And, Washington looks at India as its strategic partner in the region. We should not be surprised, if US comes out with such a wish."