Chuck Hagel stirs up India-US storm over Afghanistan

File photo: Soldier in Afghanistan India is sensitive about any questioning of its motives for being in Afghanistan

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New US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel has stirred up a sudden storm in a chai glass here, with past suggestions that India has been using Afghanistan as a "second front" against its old rival Pakistan.

"India has over the years financed problems for Pakistan" in Afghanistan, said Mr Hagel in a 2011 speech at the previously little-known foreign policy seed-bed of Oklahoma University.

If nothing else, it showed what a liability the internet can be for politicians who would wish for their past thoughts to be forgotten.

For Mr Hagel's Republican opponents, it was just a few clicks' work to ferret out the speech, get it online via a sympathetic outlet, then picked up 10.5 time zones away.

'Contrary to reality'

They must have been pleased at the rapid reaction, with India's embassy in Washington slapping down Mr Hagel's comments as "contrary to the reality". The Pakistani media predictably jumped on the story too.

File photo: US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel Mr Hagel made the remarks in 2011

However, having already hurdled charges of being anti-Israel, a last-minute accusation of being anti-India as well wasn't enough to stop Mr Hagel's nomination going through.

India is always sensitive about any questioning of its motives for being in Afghanistan. But officials are not that concerned about an old speech, or that the US is now turning against Indian involvement in Afghanistan.

"We have consistently received support and encouragement from our US partners for our constructive role in Afghanistan," says Syed Akbaruddin, spokesman for India's ministry of external affairs.

In fact, Delhi has sometimes appeared the reticent one, for example resisting calls from Washington to expand its training of Afghan security forces.

There's another reason, though, why this little episode may be more significant - because it highlights a bigger question over where relations between Delhi and Washington are going.

Mired in suspicion

The high hopes for a new era of relations after a nuclear deal have "simply not panned out", says Professor Bharat Karnad at the Centre for Policy Research.

Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai (L) shakes hands with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi, 12 November 2012 India says the US has supported its "constructive role" in Afghanistan

Instead, the two sides seem mired in misunderstandings and suspicion over everything from arms deals to technology.

And while India shares US concerns about China's rise, it has been wary of becoming a "cat's paw" of American interests.

It was former President George W Bush who got things going, ending decades of often frosty relations between the world's two largest democracies. And many see the end of his time in the White House as the high water mark.

"Republicans are always better for India," says Mr Karnad. "They have a much better strategic sense than the Democrats."

In fact, Mr Obama seemed interested in moving things on in his first term, but he seems to have other priorities in his second. And India fears it has lost its best supporters, with Hillary Clinton leaving the state department and Leon Panetta the Pentagon.

An Indian official admits "the jury is still out on Kerry and Hagel".

Andrew North Article written by Andrew North Andrew North South Asia correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 93.

    @83 RAJ
    what has the history of 71 got to do with this topic?
    My point was that the Idea of india being in afghanistan soley for humanitarian reasons and NOT interfering in the affairs of your arch-rival located just across a porous border is illogical.
    Rather than responding to my posts,you just spew hate at Pakistan which you are brainwashed to do by your media 24/7. I feel sorry for you.

  • rate this

    Comment number 92.

    @81 RAJ
    Apology doesnt mean he lied in the first place.You can either bury your head into the sand and ignore the very real problem of hindu terror and it spreads or you can face up to it and find a solution. pakistan recognizes the mess we are in(because its pretty obvious now) and working for a solution. Insulting my intelligence or my nation with childish names will not change this fact.

  • rate this

    Comment number 91.

    @RAJ 80
    Chuck Hagel states that india is interfering(read spreading terror/destabilizing) pakistan.WE KNOW IT FOR SURE NOW.Common sense also tells us that this is true We are fighting a war against different groups of mercenaries serving different interests. so naturally things will not be good in pakistan. When pakistan responds you have one of the causes of 26/11.

  • rate this

    Comment number 90.

    @RAJ 80
    Chuck Hagel states that india is interfering(read spreading terror/destabilizing) pakistan...WE KNOW IT FOR SURE NOW.Common sense also tells us that this is true. We are fighting a war against different groups of mrcnries serving different interests. so naturally things will not be good in pakistan. WE ALL KNOW THIS. You put 2 and 2 together now....and you have one of the causes of 26/11..

  • rate this

    Comment number 89.

    Dont you think the money ...has an element of bribery in it?

    Some of it may indeed have an element of bribery to it. If that is so, then logically it follows that some people in India who accept this "tainted money" are corrupt themselves. Do you "trust" these people ?
    They must really "need" the aid money as they haven't sent any of it back !


Comments 5 of 93


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