Chuck Hagel understood India's value, opened US military for Sikhs
Washington: Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who quit amid differences with President Barack Obama, understood the strategic importance of India and opened up the US military a little bit more for the Sikhs.
Hagel, 68, who has been asked by President Obama to remain in office till Senate confirms his replacement, is likely to talk to new Indian Defence Minister Manohar Parikar. During his 21 months in office, Hagel opened up the US military for the Sikhs, a long pending demand of Indian-Americans that Sikhs be allowed in the force with their religious symbols intact.
In an order issued this year, he permitted Sikhs to join armed services on a case by case basis, with their religious symbols intact as long as they do not interfere in their work. Sikh leaders have termed it as a step in the right direction.
The Pentagon, in a fact sheet, listed “Deepening the Strategic Relationship with India” as Hagel's key achievement. “Understanding the importance of a rising and democratic India to the future security and prosperity of Asia and South Asia, encouraged deeper strategic and defense cooperation, including through the Defense Trade and Technology Initiative and expanded mil-mil cooperation,” the fact sheet said.
According to Hagel's aides, he understood the significance of India and the US-India military-to-military relationship in the emerging new geo-political landscape in the Asia Pacific region. This was one of the reasons why he visited India in the first 100 days of the new Indian Government and set pace of strengthened military and defense ties with India.
Hagel also met Prime Minister Narendra Modi when the latter met Obama at the White House in September. While he might have been on the same page with India's former Defense Minister A K Antony, Hagel appeared to be quite comfortable and enthusiastic working with the Modi Government.
He was quick to appoint Frank Kendall as the Pentagon's point person for the India-US Defense Technology and Trade Initiative and broke protocols by personally attending the Defense Policy Group meeting that took place here last month.
However, when Hagel was nominated the US Defense Secretary, a video surfaced in which he was seen making anti-India remarks and one in favour of Pakistan. But towards the end of his tenure, he did not meet Pakistan Army Chief General Raheel Sharif during his trip to the US this month, even though the latter extended his trip for a few days, in hope of meeting with him.
As America's 24th Defense Secretary, he is the first Defense Secretary in nearly two decades to be confronted with the reality of shrinking budgets and a growing demand for US military support around the world.
Hagel is said to have resigned amid reports of differences with Obama who is apparently seeking to install a new leadership at the Pentagon as he enters the last two years of his presidency facing new global challenges like the rise of IS.