India's offer to extend operational help to the US in the event of a strike against Afghanistan may remain more of a gesture than any real assistance, at least for now. External affairs minister Jaswant Singh had remarked that India would agree to provide a staging ground for a US military operation should the occasion arise.
A senior general at army headquarters told Outlook that New Delhi's help will be sought only in the event of a protracted engagement, in which case, Indian facilities can be used as a secondary support base. He also pointed out that the Indian government had assured the US of providing refuelling facilities if Pakistan refused to help on this count.
Says former IPKF commander, Lt. General A.S. Kalkat: "We can offer three things. Staging facilities and infrastructural support at airports like refuelling of planes; intelligence information as Indian troops have had first-hand experience in dealing with Taliban-supported outfits in Kashmir; and in case of a multinational force, actual involvement both at ground level and participation of our air force which is within striking distance." Kalkat adds that India's help could be most beneficial to the Americans as "we can interrogate some of Osama's aides in Indian prisons and help identify his location or his modus operandi." Former acm (retd), S.K. Kaul, maintains that air base facilities in the western sector would be of help for launching operations. "Their fighter planes are superior to ours, but we can provide logistical support," he says.
Although India has previously provided operational help to the US military during the Gulf War, the latest offer comes amid a downward slide in US-Pak relations. Islamabad may be in a better position to help theoretically, but not in practical terms.
Lt General H. Kaul (retd) agrees that India can provide logistical help by way of airspace facilities. "We can also extend help through our sea-based naval craft," he says. "Moreover," he adds "intelligence help to the US will be of immense help."
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