Chuck Hagel, former senator from Nebraska, and now the brand new US Defence Secretary, has walked into a typical South Asian storm even before he formally entered office. From a partial revelation of a previously unreleased speech he made over two years ago, in 2011, at Cameron University in Lawton, Okhlahoma, Hagel appears to hold a brief for Pakistan. This is what he said in a video clip that runs for several seconds: “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, many years.”
Read as it is, there is no ambiguity: Hagel is talking as though he were Pakistan’s defence minister, especially the use of the phrase “second front” and that part about financing problems for our western neighbour. What we do know is that his speech must have lasted much longer than the 17 seconds that is available in the Internet and that it was about Afghanistan. What we do not know at the moment is what he said in the rest of the speech. We do not know what the immediate context was to this portion. Let us give him the benefit of doubt.
As someone not in government in 2011, he would not have had access to a lot of information/intelligence that is going to land on his table as Defence Secretary. Let us recall that before the attacks on the World Trade Towers, the US used to routinely pooh-pooh Indian assertions on Pakistan’s role in Kashmir, its financing terrorism there and fanning a secessionist movement. Even the CIA did not give credence to New Delhi’s assertions. It is only after the US entrenched itself deeply in Pakistan, electronically eavesdropping, putting more intelligence assets on the ground, that it saw for itself exactly what was going on in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Hagel will have to re-educate himself on Pakistan once he is in office. I also do not think that Hagel alone can change the American policy on India.
What we should be more worried is what our own Prime Minister did in 2009 in Sharm el-Sheikh when he met Yousuf Raza Gilani, his Pakistani counterpart. Manmohan Singh persuaded himself to be part of a joint statement that went: “Both leaders agreed that the two countries will share real time, credible and actionable information on any future terrorist threats.
Prime Minister Gilani mentioned that Pakistan has some information on threats in Balochistan and other areas.
After Gilani went back to Islamabad, he promptly accused India of “interfering” in Balochistan. Let us remember that this was two years before Hagel’s speech at Cameron University. It is one thing for assorted American politicians, Pakistani politicians and militarymen-turned-politicians to make the accusation. It is entirely another thing if it is mentioned in a prime ministerial-level joint statement where an inescapable bilateral solemnity is conferred on it. The Prime Minister’s Balochistan gift to Pakistan will come to haunt us again and again, just as we are seeing. The real pity is we seem to be doing precious little in leveraging Balochistan where we do not have a geographical connect in any case, which severely limits covert options. Will it change once the US exits Afghanistan?