U.S. officials say Defense Secretary Leon Panetta will encourage India to take a more active role in Afghanistan, as he meets with officials to discuss regional security and defense relations.
Panetta arrived Tuesday in New Delhi for two days of talks. He is scheduled to meet with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon and Defense Minister A.K. Antony. He will make a policy speech on Wednesday.
U.S. defense officials say there is a risk that "the tensions and historical mistrust between India and Pakistan could lead them to view their respective roles in Afghanistan as being in conflict." But the officials told reporters traveling with Panetta that the longtime rivals have a shared interest in peace and stability in Afghanistan.
Pakistan has long felt it has a strategic interest in Afghanistan, and is especially concerned about the diplomatic, political, and economic inroads made there by its archrival, India.
India has provided $2 billion in aid to Afghanistan, and last October the two countries signed a strategic agreement pledging deeper security and economic ties. India is already helping Afghan security forces prepare for the withdrawal of international troops set to be completed by the end of 2014.
The talks between Panetta and Indian officials will also include what the Pentagon calls "Asia re-balancing." Panetta told a security forum in Singapore Saturday the U.S. Navy would shift the majority of its ships to the Pacific by 2020 as part of a strategic focus on Asia.
U.S. officials say India can help promote security and stability in the Indian Ocean region and the South Asian country has been singled out in the new U.S. strategy.
U.S. and Indian officials are also expected to discuss greater military cooperation.
Defense Secretary Panetta's visit to New Delhi - his first since assuming the post last year -- follows a stop in India last month by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.