India got dragged into the campaign of some ultra-right Republicans to stall the nomination of Chuck Hagel as the next US Defence Secretary, with the unearthing of a two-year-old video in which the former Republican senator claimed that New Delhi has been using Afghanistan as a “second front” against Pakistan.
The US Senate is all set to vote on Hagel’s nomination, 12 days after some senior Republicans delayed it by raising questions on his stance on Israel and Iran.
On Monday, a Washington-based conservative online news website released the 2011 speech of Hagel made at Cameron University. In the video, Hagel seemed to accuse India of fomenting trouble for Pakistan from its posts in Afghanistan, which he described as the former’s “second front”.
“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,” said Hagel.
According to reports, some Republicans led by Senator John Cornyn was using Hagel’s remarks to demonstrate his unsuitability for the office. They had earlier based their opposition on Hagel’s reported remarks in a 2008 book that “US lawmakers were intimidated by a Jewish lobby” and his alleged opposition to a military strike against Iran.
As the anti-Hagel campaign drew much criticism -- especially as it purported to paint him as anti-semitic -- his opponents seem to have looked for ammunition elsewhere.
Cornyn, also the co-chair of the India Caucus in the Senate, reportedly circulated Hagel’s remarks to various leaders in the Indian-American community, who are often courted for their fundraising prowess.
According to official sources in New Delhi, the Indian Embassy in Washington had responded in detail to a US media report that first mentioned the 2011 speech, noting that it was in direct contrast to the Obama administration’s policy of encouraging a bigger Indian role in Afghanistan.
“The Government of India has close and frequent discussions with the United States on all issues of mutual interest, including Afghanistan, and we have consistently received support and encouragement from our US partners for our constructive role in Afghanistan,” said sources.
In its statement, the Indian Embassy said Hagel’s alleged remarks were “contrary to the reality of India’s unbounded dedication to the welfare of Afghan people”, even as it described the Republican as a “long-standing friend of India and a prominent votary of close India-US relations”.
“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.