India roundly refuted President Donald Trump’s claim that Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi had requested him to intervene in the Kashmir dispute.
At a press conference held in the White House July 22, with Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan by his side, President Trump may have committed a diplomatic faux pas reversing decades of U.S. policy of non-interference on Jammu & Kashmir.
During the 40-minute press conference before the bilateral discussions began, the discussion centered mostly on Afghanistan and billions in U.S. aid to Pakistan, as well as Iran and other domestic U.S. issues.
However, in response to a reporter’s question directed to both Trump and Khan, about whether the American President would intervene to settle issues between India and Pakistan relating to Kashmir, Khan said he would be asking President Trump about that during the bilateral.
But President Trump said, “So I was with — I was with Prime Minister Modi two weeks ago, and we talked about this subject. And he actually said, “Would you like to be a mediator or arbitrator?” I said, “Where?” He said, “Kashmir.” Because this has been going on for many, many years…. I was surprised at how long….”
Trump went on to say, “And I think they’d like to see it resolved. And I think you’d (Khan) like to see it resolved. And if I can help, I would love to be a mediator. It shouldn’t be — I mean, it’s impossible to believe two incredible countries that are very, very smart, with very smart leadership, can’t solve a problem like that. But if you want me to mediate or arbitrate, I would be willing to do that.” Khan said millions in the Subcontinent would thank Trump if that happened.
India’s Ministry of External Affairs sent out a rebuttal almost immediately, denying President Trump’s claim that Prime Minister Modi had approached him to intercede on Kashmir.
“We have seen President Trump’s remarks to the press that he is ready to mediate, if requested by India and Pakistan, on the Kashmir issue,” MEA spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said, also posting the statement on Twitter.
“No such request has been made by Prime Minister to the US President. It has been India’s consistent position that all outstanding issues with Pakistan are discussed only bilaterally,” the MEA said.
“Any engagement with Pakistan would require an end to cross border terrorism. The Shimla Agreement and the Lahore Declaration provide the basis to resolve all issues between India and Pakistan bilaterally,” the statement asserted.
India’s Ambassador to the United States Harsh V. Shringla, indicated to News India Times in an interview that Washington has never held the position articulated by President Trump.
“The U.S. position on Jammu & Kashmir has been that this has to be resolved bilaterally between India and Pakistan, and that there is no role for international mediators,” Ambassador Shringla said.
India’s External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, repeated the denials in the Indian Parliament, saying he could “categorically assure the house” that “no such request” for mediation was made by Modi to Trump. Jaishankar was present at the G20 meeting Trump referred to.
India expert Christine Fair, associate professor at the Security Studies Program in Georgetown University said “decades of bipartisan work in India and the US” had been undermined by the Trump comments.
Congressman Brad Sherman, D-California, in a tweet, noted, “Everyone who knows anything about foreign policy in South ASia knows that #India consistently opposes third-party mediation re #Kashmir. EVeryone knows PM Modi would never suggest such a thing. Trump’s statement is amateurish and delusional. And embarrassing.”
Rep. Sherman also said, “I just apologized to Indian Ambassador @HarshShringla for Trump’\s amateurish and embarassing mistake.”
Foreign Policy magazine had an apt headline – “Trump Does an About-Face on Pakistan — adn Blunders Into the Kashmir Dispute,” and in effect giving Trump a pass for reasons of realpolitik, contending that “The U.S. President is desperate to salvage pedace talks with the Taliban, even if it means cozying up to Pakistan at the expense of America’s newest partner in the Indo-Pacific.” It called the overture to Pakistan and the downturn for India as Trump’s “trademark mix of ignorance and bluster.”
President Trump repeated more than once during the press conference that Prime Minister Modi had asked him to intervene. “It should be resolved. So it — but he (Modi) asked me the same, so I think there’s something. So maybe we’ll speak to him or I’ll speak to him, and we’ll see if we can do something because I’ve heard so much about Kashmir. Such a beautiful name. It’s supposed to be such a beautiful part of the world. But right now there’s just bombs all over the place. They say everywhere you go, you have bombs and it’s a terrible situation. Been going on for many years. If I can do anything to help that, let me know,” Trump said.
In the final readout on the bilateral, the White House made no mention of Kashmir, and saying the meeting duscussed how U.S. and Pakistan could work together to bring peace, stability, and economic prosperity to South Asia.
“The President and Prime Minister discussed the threat that terrorism presents to regional stability and discussed ways in which Pakistan can support a peaceful resolution to the conflict in Afghanistan,” the White House statement said. President Trump, “… also affirmed Prime Minister Khan’s stated commitment to take action against militants and terrorists.”
During the earlier press conference, one Pakistani reporter asked President Trump if he could play “a role in stopping India to, you know, destabilizing the region (sic)?”
President Trump replied, “I think I can very well. I have a very good relationship with Prime Minister Modi. And I think we’re going to have a phenomenal relationship with the Prime Minister of Pakistan. I do think that it’s a two-way street. You know, you say India is coming in and destabilizing Pakistan, but India is saying that Pakistan is coming in and destabilizing. So there’s a lot of room right there where we can meet. I think we can meet.”
Meanwhile, prior to Khan’s arrival, the White House put out a backgrounder spelling out U.S. goals in relation to Pakistan.
“President Donald J. Trump is “working to strengthen cooperation with Pakistn on issues that are vital to the peace, stability, and prosperity of the South Asia region”
The statement which focused more on Afghanistan and two-way trade with Pakistan said Islamabad “has taken some steps against terrorist groups operating in Pakistan,” but went on to add, “It is vital that Pakistan take action to shut down all groups once and for all.”
The Khan visit to Pakistan was preceded by the arrest of Lashkar-e-Taiba founder Hafiz Saeed, the alleged mastermind behind the Mumbai terror attack that killed 106 people including 6 Americans, seen as an attempt to meet some conditions to convince skeptics about Islamabad’s commitment to counter terrorism within its borders.