Chuck Hagel's Indian Problem

Said allied nation is funding attacks on Pakistan in Afghanistan in previously unreleased 2011 speech

February 25, 2013

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

"India has over the years financed problems for Pakistan" in Afghanistan, Hagel said during a 2011 address regarding Afghanistan at Oklahoma’s Cameron University, according to video of the speech obtained by the Free Beacon.

The controversial comments mark a departure from established United States policy in the region and could increase tensions between the Obama administration and India should the Senate confirm Hagel on Tuesday, according to experts.

"It's both over-the-top and a sharp departure from a U.S. position that has seen democratic India as a stabilizing influence in Afghanistan and Asia more broadly," said Sadanand Dhume, former India bureau chief at the Far Eastern Economic Review and current resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

"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," Dhume said, referring to the administration’s plan to remove most military forces from the war-torn country in the coming months.

Hagel’s nomination has 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. GOP 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 U.S. 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 over the latter’s failure to stymie terrorist activities.

Hagel appears to accuse India of fueling 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."

Hagel’s comments reflect a "paranoid" worldview, India expert Dhume said.

"This statement reflects the views of the more paranoid elements of the Pakistan establishment more than mainstream U.S. opinion," he said. "It's a dated way of looking at a part of the world important to U.S. interests in Asia."

Hagel’s 2011 remarks at Cameron University were released to the Free Beacon under the Oklahoma Open Records Act. The university had initially stated that Hagel would have to personally authorize the speech’s release, though no authorization was ultimately granted.

Hagel also criticized NATO during his remarks, questioning whether the international treaty organization 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 again 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."

Hagel also explained that the U.S. 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."

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R., Okla.), the Senate Armed Services Committee’s ranking member, warned Republican lawmakers last week against voting to confirm Hagel.

"Make no mistake; a vote for cloture is a vote to confirm Sen. Hagel as secretary of defense," Inhofe wrote in a strongly worded letter to his Republican colleagues, several of whom have indicated that they would vote to end debate on Hagel’s nomination, paving the way for his confirmation.

Hagel is widely expected to be confirmed Tuesday by the Senate, more than a month after he was first nominated by Obama.

The anti-Semitic Nation of Islam leader, Louis Farrakhan, threw his support behind Hagel on Monday.