A day after US President Donald Trump dialled Prime Minister Narendra Modi asking him to increase India’s cooperation in the war-torn country, the former's special Afghan envoy Zalmay Khalilzad is headed for India, according to an official announcement. The State Department on Tuesday said Khalilzad will lead an inter-agency delegation to India, China, Afghanistan, and Pakistan from January 8 to January 21. However, country-specific dates of his travel were not announced. The State Department noted that Khalilzad continues to coordinate his efforts with the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah and other Afghan stakeholders to ensure an intra-Afghan peace process.
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This is Khalilzad's first trip to India after he was appointed as the Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation last year. Since then he has made multiple trips to the region, without being to India.
On Tuesday, White House said in a statement that the leaders agreed to strengthen the U.S.-India strategic partnership in 2019 and exchanged perspectives on how to reduce the U.S. trade deficit with India, expand security and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific, and increase cooperation in Afghanistan.
Last week, the US president had taken a dig at Modi for funding a library in the strife-torn nation, asking India and other neighbouring countries to take up the responsibility of security in Afghanistan.
"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 told his cabinet colleagues during a meeting.
The United States has over 14,000 troops in Afghanistan. Trump is now planning to withdraw more than 5,000 of US troops and with a reduced military presence, he wants India and Russia to take up the job. Although India has committed to provide USD 3 billion aid to Afghanistan for building infrastructure but has no plans to send its troops.
Also, Trump has been pushing India to reduce the trade deficit between the countries. Recently, in a provocative measure, the US has slapped tariffs on imports of steel and aluminium from India. In response, India had also threatened to retaliate and likely to take an action after the end of January.