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Turmoil In Baluchistan, Chuck Hagel And The Indian Factor

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By Abdus Sattar Ghazali *

US Secretary of defense designate Chuck Hagel suggested in a previously unreleased 2011 speech that India has for many years sponsored terrorist activities against Pakistan in Afghanistan.

In a speech, delivered at Oklahoma's Cameron University, Chuck Hagel said: "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 the tense, fragmented relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan has been there for many, many years," remarked Chuck Hagel who was a US senator at the time.

A video containing these remarks was uploaded by Washington Free Beacon.

Indian reaction

Not surprisingly, Hagel’s remarks sparked a strong reaction from India which said such comments are "contrary to the reality" of its unbounded dedication to the welfare of Afghans.

In a statement the Indian Embassy in Washington 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 neighborhood is firm and unshakable.

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.

According to Sadanand Dhume, resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, it is a sharp departure from a U.S. position that has seen democratic India as a stabilizing influence in Afghanistan and Asia more broadly. Sadanand Dhume, who is former India bureau chief at the Far Eastern Economic Review, added: “It’s also exactly the sort of statement that would have frayed ties with New Delhi, which has been watching the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan with concern.”

“This statement reflects the views of the more paranoid elements of the Pakistan establishment more than mainstream U.S. opinion,” Dhume said adding: “It’s a dated way of looking at a part of the world important to U.S. interests in Asia.”

Baluch insurgency

Pakistan has often accused India of fomenting separatism in its mineral rich largest province Baluchistan. A leading English newspaper – The News – reported on April 21, 2011 that there is strong evidence of Indian support in planning, commissioning and preparing acts of terrorism in Balochistan through setting up of 26 centres of terrorism (consulates) along the western border in Afghanistan.

The paper went on to say that India has managed to seek support of some of angry tribes involved in harboring terrorist attacks on strategically important installation in Balochistan.

The News said that the RAND Corporation scholar Christine Fair has validated Pakistan’s legitimate claim about India’s involvement in fanning unrest in Balochistan. She further contended that “Having visited the Indian mission in Zahedan, Iran, I can assure you they are not issuing visas as the main activity. Moreover, India has run operations from its mission in Mazar (through which it supported the Northern Alliance) and is likely doing so from the other consulates it has reopened in Jalalabad and Kandahar along the border.”

The paper also said that India provided financial support to the tune of $2.5 millions for training Baluch rebels in Afghanistan.

According to the News, US under secretary of state for political affairs, William Burns gave Indian officials a terse directive to “shut down Indian Consulates in Afghanistan, reduce presence in Kabul and stop sending mercenaries across the Durand Line.”

The paper quoted Adviser to the Prime Minister on Interior, Rehman Malik as saying: “Some 200 Baloch youths who were allegedly disappeared in Balochistan, have been traced. It was very distressing that most of these persons had crossed border and were being trained by the Indian RAW operatives in Afghanistan.”

Senate approves Hagel’s nomination

Chuck Hagel's controversial speech about India’s meddling in Pakistan came hours before the Senate Tuesday approved his nomination for Defense secretary, ending a contentious battle that exposed deep divisions over the President Obama’s Pentagon pick.

After Republicans blocked the nomination earlier this month, they ultimately allowed for an up-or-down vote. The margin was historically close, with 58 senators supporting him and 41 opposing in the end.

Though Hagel is himself a former Republican senator, the resistance to his nomination showed an unusual level of distrust among many senators toward him.

The unearthing of anti-India comment by Hagel provided another ammunition to the Republican Senators to oppose his confirmation.

Once published, the news item was sent by the office of Republican Senator John Cornyn, who is among the leading opponent of twice wounded Vietnam veteran's confirmation, India Times reported.

"In light of our shared interest in the US-India relationship, thought you would want to see this," said the email sent by Cornyn's office to top Indian American community leaders. Cornyn is Co-Chair of the Senate India Caucus.

"I am surprised and shocked. We did not know the story and background of Senator Hagel on India, Afghanistan and Pakistan. I think Indian Community needs to work on to see how we can help to stop his nomination for the post of Secretary of Defense. We will definitely follow up with our Senators and impress on them on the folly of such a nomination," Republican Sampat Shivangi, national president of Indian American Forum for Political Education, was quoted as saying.

As Nebraska Senator for two terms from 1997 to 2009, Hagel was member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, frequently travelled to South Asia and voted in favor of the historic India-US civilian nuclear deal.

Hagel also questions usefulness of NATO

The Washington Free Beacon which unveiled Hagel’s 2011 speech, reported that during his remarks Hagel also questioned whether NATO can continue to exist.

Divisions among NATO members over operations in Afghanistan and Libya have raised questions about the organization’s usefulness, Hagel said. “We are seeing a shift everywhere, we’re seeing a shift in NATO—seven, eight, nine members of NATO out of 28 were the only members of NATO that participated in the Libya exercise,” Hagel said. “Some of the most significant members, Germany being one of them, said NATO has no business in Libya, absolutely none.”

“Many of the people in the countries [that are] represented with boots on the ground … don’t want to be there, never wanted to be there,” Hagel said of NATO allies. “So can NATO continue to exist, should it exist” given these disputes, Hagel asked. “What then is the usefulness of NATO?”

Hagel also questioned NATO’s usefulness later in the speech.

“All these [international] institutions that were built after World War II throughout leadership … now 65 years later of course they cannot be the same institutions,” Hagel said.

“I just mentioned a couple minutes ago NATO as a good example. There is no Soviet threat and you all remember in 1989 when the Berlin Wall came down and ‘89, ‘90, ‘91 the Soviet Union imploded, the great question in the Congress, in Europe, was, ‘Why do we need NATO? What was the point on NATO?’ ” Hagel said. “And we essentially parked that question. We never answered it, and instead we said, ‘Well lets enlarge NATO,’ so we enlarged it.”

* Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the chief editor of the Journal of America (www.journalofamerica.net) and Executive Editor of American Muslim Perspective (www.amperspective.com)

[Source: Countercurrents.org]

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