WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama’s Defence Secretary nominee Chuck Hagel has said - what Pakistani leaders have always maintained – that India has ‘for many years’ sponsored terrorist activities against Pakistan in Afghanistan.
Hagel’s nomination had been stalled for more than a week after Senate Democrats failed to secure the 60 votes needed to end a Republican filibuster of the nomination. The lawmakers have continued to express concern over Hagel’s controversial stance on Israel, the Jewish community, and Iran, positions they say leave him unfit to serve in such a sensitive post.
The US has long viewed India as a key ally in its fight against terrorism in the porous border regions between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Tensions have arisen between India and Pakistan as New Delhi says Islamabad has failed to stymie terrorist activities.
In his 2011 speech, Hagel has accused India of fuelling tensions with Pakistan, claiming it is using Afghanistan ‘as a second front’ against Pakistan. “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,” Hagel says in the speech. “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.”
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.”
While criticising India’s role in Afghanistan, Hagel also slammed NATO during his remarks, questioning whether the international treaty organisation can continue to exist.
Hagel also explained that the US is increasingly relying on unmanned drones, comments that could renew Democratic criticism of the former Republican Nebraska senator’s stance on the use of such weapons.
“What’s evolving with the drones. That is shifting that’s changing, that’s going to change our military from what it is now in many, many ways,” Hagel said. “We probably here soon will see one of the last copies of a human pilot aircraft finally for the obvious reasons. All of these dimensions are shifting the world in ways no one is wise enough, smart enough to calculate or calibrate.”
AFP adds: President Obama’s pick to head the Pentagon cleared a key hurdle Tuesday when many Republicans ended their obstruction and the Senate agreed to bring Chuck Hagel’s nomination to a vote.
Members of the chamber voted 71-27, with 18 Republicans joining the majority Democrats in clearing the way for the Senate to hold a full vote on confirmation later Tuesday.
Hagel’s nomination had been held up for more than a week as several Republicans demanded a delay in the process so they could obtain and review information about Hagel’s finances and transcripts of speeches that he gave to international organizations in recent years.
But even some of his strongest critics, including Republicans Bob Corker, Lindsey Graham and John McCain, eventually voted to end debate on the nomination and allow an up-or-down floor vote.
Republicans could have stalled one last time, pushing the vote until Wednesday, but they relented and the full vote will occur later Tuesday, as ordered by the Democratic majority.