Washington: Moving swiftly to counter the diplomatic embarrassment caused by President Donald Trump’s flub on Kashmir and assuage an upset New Delhi, the US administration clarified that Kashmir is very much a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan, even as US Democrats apologised to India’s envoy for the US President’s “amateurish claim” about Kashmir.
India strongly rejected Trump’s claim, made in front of visiting Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had requested him to mediate in Kashmir. “No such claim was made,” India’s External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar said in Parliament.
As Trump’s statement set of a diplomatic maelstrom – with India angry, while Pakistan was jubilant, the US administration stepped in to set things straight. Acting Assistant Secretary Alice Wells clarified that the US administration welcomes India and Pakistan sitting down to resolve the “bilateral” issue and the “US stands ready to assist”.
In stating that Kashmir is a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan, Wells, Acting Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs, echoed India’s stand on the subject.
“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,” Wells tweeted.
Democrats on the House Foreign Affairs Committee spoke with Indian Ambassador to the US, Harsh Vardhan Shringla on Monday to apologise for Trump’s statement.
“Everyone who knows anything about foreign policy in South Asia knows that India consistently opposes third-party mediation (regarding) Kashmir,” Congressman Brad Sherman of California tweeted.
“Everyone knows that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi would never suggest such a thing. Trump’s statement is amateurish and delusional. And embarrassing,” he wrote. Sherman, a Democrat on the Foreign Affairs Committee, wrote in a subsequent tweet that he had apologized to the Indian ambassador for Trump’s remarks.
Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel also pushed back against Trump’s suggestion to mediate in the Kashmir issue and told the Indian envoy in a phone call that the US would stay out of the disagreement.
Engel, a New York Democrat, reiterated his support for the longstanding US position on Kashmir — that India and Pakistan should hold a dialogue over it, and that other countries, including the US, should not dictate the “pace and scope” of that dialogue, according to a readout of the conversation.
Engel told Shringla that he believed Pakistan “must first take concrete and irreversible steps to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure on Pakistan’s soil.”
Nicholas Burns, former Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs who played a key role in the India-US civil nuclear deal during the Bush Administration, termed the entire episode “embarrassing” and said “this is what happens in diplomacy when you make things up.”
“This is embarrassing, to say the least, for President Trump. His claim that PM Modi asked him to mediate the Kashmir conflict denied categorically by Delhi. This is what happens in diplomacy when you make things up,” he tweeted.
Meanwhile, Trump’s Chief Economic Advisor Larry Kudlow refused to answer a journalist’s query wanting to know if the President’s remarks on Kashmir were made up.
“It’s a very rude question,” Kudlow said, adding that the President “does not make up things”.
“The President does not make anything up. That’s a very rude question in my opinion. I am going to stay out of that. It’s outside of my lane. It’s for (National Security Advisor John) Bolton, (Secretary of State Mike) Pompeo and President, so I am not going to comment on that. President does not make things up,” Kudlow said, refusing to answer the question directly.
A factsheet issued by the White House at the conclusion of the Trump-Khan talks also avoided all mention of Kashmir.
On Monday, Trump threw the diplomatic circuit into a tizzy by claiming that Prime Minister Modi had asked him to mediate or arbitrate on the Kashmir issue. The Ministry of External Affairs immediately issued a statement rejecting Trump’s claim, saying Modi had made no such request and “it has been India’s consistent position that all outstanding issues with Pakistan are discussed only bilaterally.”
“Any engagement with Pakistan would require an end to cross border terrorism. The Simla Agreement and the Lahore Declaration provide the basis to resolve all issues between India and Pakistan bilaterally,” the MEA statement said.
In fact, during the media interaction with Imran Khan on Monday, President Trump appeared to appreciate very much the Pakistan Prime Minister saying, almost in a supplicating manner, that the US as the most powerful country in the world, and with Trump at its head, should play a role in Kashmir.
When a media person asked if Trump is going to play any role in the Kashmir issue “where millions have been dead?”, Imran said: “I will be asking President Trump. He’s — it’s the most powerful country in the world, the US. It can play the most important role in bringing peace in the subcontinent. You know, there are over a a” over a billion and a quarter people in the subcontinent. They are held hostage to the issue of Kashmir. And I feel that only the most powerful state, headed by President Trump, can bring the two countries together.”
“From my point, I can tell you, we have tried our best. We’ve made all overtures to India to start dialogue, resolve our differences through dialogue. But unfortunately, we haven’t made headways as yet. But I’m hoping that President Trump would push this process,” Imran said.
Trump also appeared ignorant about the Kashmir situation, saying “there’s just bombs all over the place” – possibly thinking it was something like what Syria was till some time ago.
“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.
When Khan said Kashmir issue should be resolved and that Trump would have the “prayers of over a billion people if you can mediate and resolve this issue”, the US President appeared pleased, and nodded, while saying “It should be resolved.”
Former Indian diplomats have brushed aside Trump’s remarks, as another example of his speaking untruths.
Former diplomat G. Parthasarathy told IANS: “Trump does not have a very strong reputation of either speaking the truth or being truthful on anything. So he is sometimes given to exaggeration.”
According to Parthasarathy, “Nobody trusts Trump. And he was contradicted by his own State Department, and in the White House statement there is no reference to what he said. If it was true, it would be very prominent in the White House statement.”
Well known strategic analyst Commodore Uday Bhaskar (retd) said the press conference with Imran Khan and the reference to Kashmir as also to Afghanistan “definitely created a flutter of considerable intensity”.
Bhaskar told IANS that Trump’s reference to “10 million people being killed” if the US chooses to intervene actively in Afghanistan and win the war there is “a very, very sensitive statement”.
According to Bhaskar, India knows it is dealing with a “mercurial president” and by the time of the Modi-Trump meeting in September, Trump will “have said 10-20 more such things by then”.
Former diplomat, T.P. Sreenivasan said: “Those who have been keeping an eye on President Trump’s lies have calculated that he has exceeded 10,000 terminological inexactitudes, otherwise known as lies.”
“Whether it was a habitual expression of post truth or an open offer to India and Pakistan, even Imran Khan could not have believed it,” Sreenivasan, former Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations, said.