Hours after US President Donald Trump set off a controversy by saying that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had requested him to act as a mediator on Kashmir during their meeting in Osaka, highly placed sources told CNBC TV18 that the US has no record of any such discussion during the meeting that happened over two weeks ago.
“We asked the US side to check their records and they have told us that this did not come up,” said an official requesting anonymity.
Trump made these remarks while addressing the media during his meeting with Pakistan PM Imran Khan. “So 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; it’s been going on a long,” Trump said. He further added that India too would like to see the Kashmir issue being resolved and he would love to be the mediator if that helps.
The Ministry of External Affairs rejected the claim on twitter. The official spokesperson said, “No such request has been made by the PM to the US president. 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 terror. The Shimla Agreement and Lahore Declaration provide the basis to resolve all issues between India and Pakistan bilaterally.” Donald Trump’s remark led to a furore in parliament with the Opposition demanding an answer from the prime minister. The ruckus continued despite a statement by the external affairs minister.
The US State Department later tried to do damage control by stating that Kashmir was a bilateral issue but stronger criticism came from a section of US Congressmen. Representative Brad Sherman said, “I just apologised to the Indian ambassador for Trump’s amateurish and embarrassing mistake.” Congressmen Eliot L Engel, Chairman of House Committee on Foreign Affairs, also spoke to the Indian envoy stating that while he supported dialogue between India and Pakistan, its pace and scope can only be determined by the two countries. He further said that for any dialogue to be meaningful. Pakistan must take concrete steps against terror.
Trump’s remarks made in the presence of Imran Khan have definitely put Indian diplomats in an uncomfortable position. Former Foreign Secretary Kanwal Sibal told CNBC TV18: “Trump’s statement shows how inept he is in international diplomacy. He is causing serious misunderstanding in India on a highly sensitive issue like Kashmir, this regarding India’s established positions which the US foreign policy establishment has known for years.”
He further said, “Worse he is giving political comfort to Imran Khan, overlooking the issue of terror sponsored by Pakistan against India particularly in Kashmir, by making such a statement in his presence. On the face of it, it looks like he is equating India and Pakistan and an equation we had thought the US had moved away from in recent years”.
India’s former ambassador to Pakistan Sharat Sabharwal told CNBC TV18 that he does not believe that the PM would have asked for a mediation and Trump was not known for precision in his statements. Sabharwal said, “He recently said Hafiz Saeed had been arrested after a search of two decades and that was completely inaccurate”. He said that the controversy would end after causing embarrassment to both sides but it was more important to watch discussions between the US and Pakistan on Afghanistan.
“What is more important is this transactional deal that is taking place on Afghanistan between Pakistan and the US. We will have to keep an eye on that and see what it means for Afghanistan and how it impacts us. In the past the US has engaged closely in a transactional manner with Pakistan and that has only emboldened them to up the ante against India,” he said.
It is important to note that a large part of the discussions between Imran Khan and Trump were about the Afghan situation and how US could extricate itself from there. “We’re working with Pakistan and others to extricate ourselves. Nor do we want to be policemen, because basically we’re policemen right now. And we’re not supposed to be policemen. We’ve been there — we’ve been there for 19 years, in Afghanistan. It’s ridiculous. And I think Pakistan helps us with that because we don’t want to stay as policemen,” said Trump.
Sabharwal said that Indian diplomats know very well that US would engage with Pakistan when it is in their national interest. Recent IMF bailout for Pakistan and the ban on the Baloch Liberation Army showed that the US wants to engage with Pakistan to tame the Afghan Tailban and that is their priority, even though they would continue urging Pakistan to act against India centric groups.Another senior diplomat well versed with US affairs said Trump’s statement cannot be called a faux pas and was a well-thought-out card to extract a deal from India. He said it was impossible for the prime minister to make such a request and India should not play into Trump’s hands by giving too much attention to his remarks.