New Delhi, Feb 27: Even as a majority of US senators voted for Chuck Hagel thus confirming him as the country's new Secretary of Defense, the row over his remarks about Indian involvement in Afghanistan continued with diplomats in Washington as well as politicians here slamming him for taking the side of Pakistan.
Hagel's comments which have drawn widespread flak were part of a speech that he delivered at Oklahoma's Cameron University two years ago but it was not released until now.
However, Washington Free Beacon highlighted the fact that in 2011 Hagel had accused India of using "Afghanistan as a second front". Alleging that Delhi had "over the years financed problems" for Islamabad, he said: "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."
Indian Americans expressed concern over his controversial remarks. "I am surprised and shocked. We did not know the story and background of Senator Hagel on India, Afghanistan and Pakistan," said Sampat Shivangi, president of the Indian American Forum for Political Education.
The Indian embassy in Washington noted that Hagel's comments were "contrary to the reality of India's unbounded dedication to the welfare of the Afghan people".
Stating that India remains committed to a prosperous Afghanistan, the embassy pointed out that India has been offering "significant assistance to Afghanistan in developing its economy, infrastructure and institutional capacities".
Kabul has welcomed "India's development assistance" and the US also has been appreciative of Delhi's efforts to "help the Afghan people build a peaceful, prosperous, democratic and inclusive future for themselves in an environment free from terror and intimidation," the embassy added.
The Congress party and its main rival were equally critical of Hagel's speech. BJP leader Rajiv Pratap Rudy urged Delhi to ensure that Hagel retracts his statement by putting diplomatic pressure on Washington.
Rudy's senior party colleague Murli Manohar Joshi stressed that the Indian government must immediately convince the Obama administration of its commitment to peace in Afghanistan.
Information and Broadcasting Minister Manish Tewari told newspersons here on Wednesday that the new US Defense Secretary should issue a clarification to dispel the confusion created by his remarks.
Salman Khursid, Minister for External Affairs, said that he will not react till the US government conveys its official stand on the matter.
Washington has already distanced itself from Hagel's remarks and described India as its "valued partner" in Afghanistan.