WASHINGTON: In a sharp contrast to US view on India’s role in Afghanistan, President Barack Obama’s defence secretary nominee Chuck Hagel has alleged that India has over the years “financed problems” for Pakistan in the war-torn country.
A video containing these remarks from an unreleased speech of Hagel at Oklahoma’s Cameron University in 2011 was uploaded by Washington Free Beacon, sparking a strong reaction from India which said such comments are “contrary to the reality” of its unbounded dedication to the welfare of Afghans.
Hagel, during the speech said, “India for some time has always used Afghanistan as a second front, and India has over the years financed problems for Pakistan on that side of the border”.
“And you can carry that into many dimensions, the point being [that] the tense, fragmented relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan has been there for many, many years,” Hagel said.
Reacting to this, the Indian embassy here said,”Such comments attributed to Senator Hagel, who has been a long-standing friend of India and a prominent votary of close India-US relations are contrary to the reality of India’s unbounded dedication to the welfare of Afghan people”.
It added that India’s commitment to a peaceful, stable and prosperous Afghanistan is unwavering, “and this is reflected in our significant assistance to Afghanistan in developing its economy, infrastructure and institutional capacities”.
“Our opposition to terrorism and its safe havens in our neighbourhood is firm and unshakable.
“India’s development assistance has been deeply appreciated by the people and the government of Afghanistan, and by our friends around the world including the US.
“We do not view our engagement with Afghanistan as a zero sum game,” the embassy said.
Hagel’s remarks are in sharp contrast to viewpoint of Obama Administration that has always been in praise of India’s developmental role in Afghanistan and in fact has been pressing New Delhi to do more in Afghanistan.
Significantly, a deeply divided Senate is in the process of voting on US president’s contentious nominee to head the defence department.
The embassy said India and the US have a shared perspective and a deep convergence of interests for ensuring peace and stability in Afghanistan.
“We will continue to work to help the Afghan people build a peaceful, prosperous, democratic and inclusive future for themselves in an environment free from terror and intimidation,” the statement said.
The unearthing of anti-India comment by Hagel provided another ammunition to the Republican Senators to oppose his confirmation.
Once published, the news item was sent by the office of powerful Republican Senator John Cornyn, who is among the leading opponent of twice wounded Vietnam veteran’s confirmation.
“In light of our shared interest in the US-India relationship, thought you would want to see this,” said the email sent by Cornyn’s office to top Indian American community leaders. Cornyn is co-chair of the Senate India Caucus.
“I am surprised and shocked. We did not know the story and background of Senator Hagel on India, Afghanistan and Pakistan. I think Indian community needs to work on to see how we can help to stop his nomination for the post of secretary of defence.
“We will definitely follow up with our senators and impress on them on the folly of such a nomination,” Republican Sampat Shivangi, national president of Indian American Forum for Political Education, said.
As Nebraska Senator for two terms from 1997 to 2009, Hagel was member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, frequently travelled to South Asia and voted in favour of the historic India-US civilian nuclear deal.
During his trip to Pakistan he told the then Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf that a similar agreement was not on cards with Islamabad, because of the proliferation issues with his country.
Hagel’s nomination has bitterly split the Senate, with Republicans turning on their former colleague and Democrats standing by Obama’s nominee.
Republican lawmakers excoriated Hagel over his past statements and votes. They argued that he was too critical of Israel and too compromising with Iran. They cast the Nebraskan as a radical far out of the mainstream.