Chuck Hagel, U.S. President Barack Obama’s nominee for Defence Secretary, is facing sharp criticism after a video of him addressing Oklahoma’s Cameron University emerged this week, showing the decorated Vietnam veteran making what some have described as anti-India remarks.
The video of Mr. Hagel’s 2011 speech, which conservative media outlet Washington Free Beacon obtained from the university under Oklahoma’s Open Records Act, clearly shows the former U.S. Senator from Nebraska saying, “India has over the years financed problems for Pakistan.”
Mr. Hagel was addressing the subject of Afghanistan-Pakistan conflict and India’s alleged role in it.He had said, “So there is some history where Afghanistan and Pakistan have similar interests. But mainly, they have not had similar interests. India is the other piece of this.”
He went on to add that “India for sometime 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 remarks, hinting at India’s alleged role in fuelling instability along the Durand Line, were received with consternation here, and the Indian embassy in Washington issued a prompt clarification.
In emailed comments to the Free Beacon, an unnamed spokesperson of the embassy was quoted as saying, “Such comments attributed to Sen. Hagel, who has been a long-standing friend of India and a prominent votary of close India-U.S. relations, are contrary to the reality of India’s unbounded dedication to the welfare of the Afghan people.”
The embassy added that India’s commitment to a peaceful, stable and prosperous Afghanistan was unwavering, as reflected in India’s significant assistance to Afghanistan in developing its economy, infrastructure and institutional capacities, and that India’s “opposition to terrorism and its safe havens in our neighbourhood is firm and unshakeable”.
The spokesperson further clarified that India’s development assistance had been deeply appreciated by the people and the Government of Afghanistan, and by its friends around the world, including the U.S., and that it did not view its engagement with Afghanistan as a “zero sum game”.
Although President Obama nominated Mr. Hagel to serve as Defence Secretary early in January, and this month the Senate Armed Services Committee approved that nomination, Senate Republicans filibustered the Democrats on this appointment by blocking 60-vote support required to end the debate and proceed to a final vote.
The Senate is expected to take up the nomination again this week. According to reports this is the first time in history that a U.S. Defence Secretary nomination has been filibustered.