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Thursday, Sep 19, 2019

Kashmir: New Delhi would like Trump to stay away | Opinion

How the US President will take that is far less certain.

columns Updated: Aug 25, 2019 07:36 IST
Mark Tully
Mark Tully
US President Donald Trump 's Prime Minister Narendra Modi, The Philippines, November 13, 2017
US President Donald Trump 's Prime Minister Narendra Modi, The Philippines, November 13, 2017(REUTERS)
         

The abrogation of Article 370, and the security blanket smothering Kashmir, has, not surprisingly, sparked off yet another diplomatic contest between India and Pakistan. India has resisted Pakistan’s efforts to internationalise the situation, but in doing so, has the Prime Minister Narendra Modi opened the door to international mediation? That question is raised by United States President Donald Trump’s intervention in the contest.

Pakistan won the first round in the contest when China called for a Security Council (SC) meeting to hold consultations on Kashmir. This event was given added significance by its rarity. The SC has not discussed Kashmir since 1971. In the end, however, the SC provided no comfort to Pakistan. China was isolated at the meeting, and no statement was issued. So, India won that round, and its position that developments in Kashmir are an internal matter remained intact.

But dealing with President Trump’s attempt to take advantage of the situation, and intervene in the dispute, has not been so straightforward a matter for Indian diplomacy to handle. Before the abrogation of Article 370, Trump had made it clear that he saw a role for himself in the Kashmir dispute. Meeting the Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan last month, he said, “I would love to be a mediator between India and Pakistan on Kashmir.”

He also maintained that Modi had asked him to mediate, which was denied by India. After the abrogation of Article 370, Trump took a call from Khan during which Pakistan’s PM complained about the constitutional changes, and the security clampdown in Kashmir. Then Khan accused the Modi government of being “fascist and a threat to Pakistani and Indian minorities”. The doubt as to whether India sought Trump’s mediation arises because Modi, then, spoke to the US president and complained about this outburst. That prompted Trump to ask Khan to “moderate his rhetoric”. Trump summed up his interventions in a tweet, saying, “Spoke to my two good friends Prime Minister Modi of India and Prime Minister Imran Khan of Pakistan and urged them to work towards reducing tensions in Kashmir, a tough situation but good conversation.”

Then came strange developments. At a time when India’s effort is concentrated on painting Pakistan as bellicose, and blaming Khan for creating tension, the chief of the Indian Army staff, General Bipin Rawat, heightened the tension. In what was said to be a closed-door interaction with retiring officers, it was reported the General said he had assured the government at the time of the Balakot strike that the Army was “combat-ready for any hostilities from the Pakistan army”; the implication being that the Army is still combat-ready. A day later, the defence minister, Rajnath Singh, said, “India remains committed to the doctrine of ‘No First Use’. What happens in the future depends on the circumstances.” Those two statements have hardly helped to create the impression that India’s intentions are peaceful in contrast to Pakistan’s bellicosity.

So, where does this diplomacy and these statements leave the US and India? The US position is unclear. After his statement, Singh spoke to the US defence secretary, Mark T Esper, who apparently appreciated that the recent developments in Kashmir were an internal matter of India. But Trump seems determined to continue his role as a mediator. In what was his latest statement at the time of writing, Trump described the situation in Kashmir as “very explosive” and “very tough”, adding, “I will do my best to mediate or do something”. As for India — although there have been some suggestions that Modi’s conversation with Trump has provided a precedent for mediation — I don’t think the American president will get any encouragement to mediate. How the US President will take that is far less certain.

The views expressed are personal

First Published: Aug 24, 2019 21:39 IST