Stop baiting Trump on Kashmir mediation
It will be a while before we will stop arguing if President Donald Trump’s India visit was all hype and no substance. Or not. But one thing is clearer now than ever before: Unless asked or prompted, Trump does not utter the M-word (mediation) on Kashmir. In every instance he has, and I have lost count of them, he was led to it.
The president did not use the M-word in his long speech at the Motera cricket stadium on February 24. He could have easily segued into it while talking about Pakistan. And there was nothing again at his joint appearance with Prime Minister Narendra Modi before their bilateral meeting in New Delhi, or in his remarks in the Press statement. The levee broke at a press conference American presidents have traditionally held to wrap up a foreign visit. Responding to a question intended to elicit a sharp denunciation of Pakistan’s continued support of terrorism, Trump offered to mediate in the India-Pakistan dispute. He tried to clean it up a little later in response to another question. But the M-word had been spoken, and headlines were made.
Does Trump want to insinuate himself into one of the world’s most explosive disputes, with dozens of nuclear weapons locked and loaded on either side?
Not clear. But here is what is clear: Trump has never made an unprompted offer to mediate in the India-Pakistan dispute yet. He first spoke of it in July 2019, at a joint press appearance at the White House with Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan. The visiting leader set it up with a public appeal, wrapped in flattery, and the Trump bit the bait. Every time since, Trump has offered to mediate — using variations of it, such as help and intervene — only in remarks to reporters.
This is an important point to consider. Written speeches tend to reflect the policies and positions of a government, especially the Trump administration, more accurately than unprepared and unsacripted remarks, such as those to reporters. Mediation in the India-Pakistan dispute is not US policy, as the state department reminded everyone in the immediate aftermath of the storm kicked up by Trump’s first offer made in July. “While Kashmir is a bilateral issue for both parties to discuss, the Trump administration welcomes Pakistan and India sitting down and the United States stands ready to assist,” a senior state department official said, delicately reversing the president. That has remained the US position since, despite the many subsequent offers by the president to mediate, including the one made on Tuesday in Delhi.
The American leader gets the futility of his offers, demonstrated by his attempt at the Delhi news conference to clean up his previous remarks about mediation on Kashmir. The Indian government gets it also, because it has stopped reacting to Trump’s mediation offers. It is time now, it needs to be said, for us in news media to get it as well, and stop trying to provoke the American President into offering mediation, because, one, it makes for good copy and headline, and, two, denouncing it makes for an even better copy and headline.