Trump Shocks Yet Again


US President Donald Trump has claimed in a meeting with Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has urged him to intervene in the Kashmir issue and act as a mediator. That however is half the story; as the strategic discussion between the US and Pakistan is something that should be watched keenly by India. The US State Department clarified that US was not looking for a role and Kashmir is a bilateral matter between India and Pakistan.

In response to the US President’s comment, India’s External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar responded by categorically stating that no such request was made by Prime Minister Modi to the American President.

The US President and Prime Minister Modi held discussions on the side-lines of the Osaka G20 summit in Japan last month after the Indian Prime Minister was re-elected to office by a massive victory. The two leaders are also expected to meet in Washington DC on the side-lines of UN General Assembly. President Trump is expected to visit India in the near future for a bilateral dialogue. In this context of engagement at the highest level, the statement from President Trump has come at a time when both sides are poised to discuss several critical issues.

On the one hand United States has passed a legislation granting India the status of a “NATO like ally” in the first week of July and on the other, both sides are in consultation on the regional issue of Afghanistan. That apart there are high value defence contracts on the anvil. It is not yet clear why the US President in a departure from the time-tested stand taken by successive US administrations under Presidents of different parties has ventured to suggest that he would like to mediate on Kashmir which is a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan.                          

This indicates that the traditionally sacrosanct principles of diplomacy are no longer valid in the US. India has maintained since the 1972 Shimla Accord that disputes with Pakistan will be dealt with bilaterally and that any third party participation in this regard is unwelcome. This principle was placed on Pakistan in the weeks following the 1971 war makes it even more binding as India was the victor in the war.

Ever since, Pakistan has urged for third party mediation that India rejected as a matter of routine diplomatic practice. However, this time also India has clearly indicated that no third party has a locus standi in the bilateral issue.

Of real interest is the high level dialogue between Pakistan and the US which is aimed at giving Islamabad a new role in managing affairs of South Asia and rebalance India. It seems that the US administration has gone ahead and granted Pakistan the role of managing Afghanistan’s fragile affairs giving the US a respectable exit from the nearly two decades old military campaign in the country. It looks like that the US is granting Pakistan leeway in a give and take policy, as Washington is keen to leave Afghanistan honourably.

Though the US President’s statement on Kashmir has drawn attention, the fact should be known that both Pakistan and the US have been in a complex diplomatic dialogue for several months. Pakistan has cracked down on domestic terrorists like Hafiz Saeed at home to give the  impression that it would do what the US wants it to; provided US rebalances its South Asia policy. A new game is expected to begin when Prime Minister Imran Khan returns from his US trip with explicit support from President Trump.

The American President has an unconventional style of diplomacy and he has tried his hands in various domains associated with the immediate zones of American concern, but his latest move on seeking a mediatory role in South Asia’s “nuclear flashpoint” indicates that new of international engagement are being re-written. Given the status of Indo-US ties, India will have to strategize carefully without hurting its sovereignty concerns. The United States should also realise that foreign policy is evolved through maturity and not by reckless statements. India’s policy regarding Kashmir has remained constant under various governments and does not allow any third party intervention or mediation.

Script: Kallol Bhattacherjee, Senior Correspondent, The Hindu