India financed Pak's problems in Afghanistan: Chuck Hagel

Chguck Hagel
A day before he was nominated as US Secretary of Defence, Chuck Hagel apparently accused India of "financing problems" for Pakistan in Afghanistan. India has described the purported comments as "contrary to the reality of (New Delhi's) unbounded dedication to the welfare of Afghans".

The Washington Free Beacon, a non-profit online newspaper that claims to do investigative reporting on public policy, government affairs, international security and media criticism, uploaded a video of what it said was an unreleased speech that Hagel made at Oklahoma's Cameron University in 2011, making the apparently anti-India comments.

The report was put out a day before Hagel's nomination was scheduled to come up for vote in a divided Senate. Around midnight India time on Tuesday, the Senate had voted to break a filibuster against the nomination, clearing the way for his confirmation despite strong Republican reservations on his qualification for the job.

The Senate had scheduled a vote on the nomination for later on Tuesday. Hagel — who has been accused by critics of being hostile to Israel and soft on Iran — needed a simple majority of 51 for confirmation.

The video on the Free Beacon site showed Hagel as saying, "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."

In a detailed reaction published by The Free Beacon, the Indian embassy in Washington rejected the accusation.

"Such comments attributed to Sen. 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 the Afghan people," an embassy spokesperson said in an email to the publication.

"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 neighborhood is firm and unshakeable."

The embassy made the point that "India's development assistance has been deeply appreciated by... Afghanistan (and) the US", and that New Delhi did not "view (the) engagement with Afghanistan as a zero sum game".

In New Delhi, government sources told The Indian Express that India, US and Afghanistan had had a trilateral in Delhi as recently as on February 19 — their second meeting since last year.

India has had "close and frequent discussions with the US on all issues of mutual interest including on Afghanistan", a South Block official said. "We have consistently received support and encouragement from our US partners for our constructive role in Afghanistan," the official added.

As Nebraska senator from 1997 to 2009, Hagel was member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and frequently travelled to South Asia. He voted in favour of the India-US civilian nuclear deal.

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