It was just a throwaway riff in President Trump’s lengthy Cabinet monologue, but it rated as front-page news across India Thursday.
Indian officials said they were puzzled and upset by Mr.Trump’s complaints about New Delhi’s contributions to the U.S.-led war effort in Afghanistan, saying Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was “constantly” boasting to him of a single library in Afghanistan that India had funded.
“We’re supposed to say. ‘Thank you for the library,’” Mr. Trump told aides and reporters gathered for the first Cabinet meeting of the new year Wednesday. “I don’t know who’s using it but … I don’t like being taken advantage of there.”
Mr. Trump said India’s library project was equivalent to “like, five hours” of what the U.S. spends in the military and reconstruction mission in Afghanistan.
Indian officials said they were mystified by the criticism, partly because they say to have invested some $3 billion in Afghanistan since 2001 and partly because the recent Indian projects in Afghanistan do not include any libraries.
The government noted that India’s infrastructure investments in Afghanistan include building the new Afghan parliament building, roads, dams and the 150-bed Indira Gandhi Institute of Child Health hospital in Kabul.
No Indian troops are fighting in Afghanistan because “India does not send its armed forces abroad except under the specific mandate of U.N. peacekeeping operations,” a government official told the Hindustan Times.
Mr. Trump’s comments clearly struck a nerve.
Ajai Sahni, executive director of the Institute for Conflict Management, told the newspaper that deploying Indian troops could significantly complicate the war, given regional sensibilities.
“Trump doesn’t need to be taken seriously by anyone, as what he’s saying is not flowing from any wisdom or sagacity,” Mr. Sahni said.