Modi, Trump talk after US prez mocks India

Modi, Trump talk after US prez mocks India

U.S. President Donald Trump holds a bilateral meeting with India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi alongside the ASEAN Summit in Manila, Philippines November 13, 2017. REUTERS file photo

Less than a week after American President Donald Trump mocked him and ridiculed New Delhi’s support to the development of infrastructure in Afghanistan, Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke to him over the phone and discussed ways to step up India-US cooperation in the conflict-torn country.

Prime Minister and the US President agreed to strengthen the bilateral strategic partnership in 2019, the White House said in a statement, adding that they had also “exchanged perspectives on how to reduce America’s trade deficit with India, expand security and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific and increase cooperation in Afghanistan”.

The statement issued by the Ministry of External Affairs in New Delhi did not directly refer to any discussion between the Prime Minister and the US President on India-America cooperation in Afghanistan. The MEA, however, stated that two leaders had exchanged greetings for New Year and had taken “positive note of growing bilateral cooperation in defence, counter-terrorism and energy and coordination on regional and global issues”.

They expressed satisfaction at the progress in India-US strategic partnership in 2018. They appreciated developments such as the launch of the new 2+2 dialogue mechanism and the first-ever trilateral summit of India, the US and Japan, the MEA stated.

India has been concerned over the US move to withdraw about 7000 of its soldiers from Afghanistan. New Delhi is of the view that any hasty move towards curtailing the counter-terrorism operations of the US-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan will give an advantage not only to Taliban but also to Pakistan, which has since long been seeking a “strategic depth” beyond its western frontier. New Delhi suspects that Pakistan’s military spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence, orchestrated almost all the terror attacks on India’s citizens as well as its consular and diplomatic missions in Afghanistan in the past.

Prime Minister also exchanged New Year greetings with Russian President Vladimir in a phone conversation on Monday. They discussed India-Russia bilateral cooperation in the key areas, including defence and counter-terrorism. They agreed that India-Russia cooperation plays an important role in the global multilateral order, stated the MEA.

Trump had on January 2 mocked at India's role in Afghanistan, which had been limited to funding development projects in the conflict-ravaged country without sending troops to join the war against Taliban.

“I could give you an example where I get along very well with India and Prime Minister Modi. But he is constantly telling me, he built a library in Afghanistan. Library! That's like five hours of what we spend (in Afghanistan),” Trump had told media-persons at the White House in Washington after his first cabinet meeting of 2019. He had apparently been drawing a comparison between the amount of money the US and other countries are spending in Afghanistan. “And, he (Modi) tells me. He is very smart. We are supposed to say, 'Oh! Thank you for the library!' Don't know who's using it (the library) in Afghanistan. But it's one of those things. I don't like being taken advantage of.”

New Delhi had dismissed the jibe, underlining that its $ 3 billion development assistance had indeed transformed lives of people in the war-ravaged country. New Delhi had also rejected US President's suggestion that India should have sent its soldiers to Afghanistan to fight the Taliban. India had stressed that it had never sent its armed forces in a foreign country “except under the specific mandate of United Nations' peacekeeping operations”.

India had financed a number of development projects in Afghanistan, including road, power transmission network and hydro-electric-cum- irrigation projects. It had not yet funded construction of a library though. Sources in Kabul and New Delhi, however, are of the view that American President might have had mistaken the new Afghan Parliament building, which the Government of India had constructed at a cost of $ 90 million, as “a library”. Prime Minister and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani inaugurated the new building in Kabul on December 25, 2015.