Mature nations show maturity just when it is needed. The India-US bilateral ties are far more consequential and important than giving undue importance to the ranting of a man who regularly tweets incoherent, racist and bigoted nonsense. India would do well not to go overboard in reacting to US president Donald Trump’s provocative remarks on Kashmir. Trump is a liar. He frequently talks through his hat, and on more than one occasion proved himself to be incompetent and unworthy of his chair. It is wise to not take seriously the words of a leader who doesn’t take himself seriously.
By all accounts, India has reacted admirably. So far. Within an hour on Monday, India issued a categorical denial of Trump’s remarks made at the White House during his meeting with visiting Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan. As much as formalities and diplomatese would allow, it left no space for doubt that India was calling Trump a liar without sounding batty or burning in righteous indignation.
The statement from the Ministry of External Affairs read: "We have seen President Trump’s remarks to the press that he is ready to mediate if requested by India and Pakistan on the Kashmir issue. No such request has been made by the prime minister 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 terrorism. The Shimla Agreement and the Lahore Declaration provide the basis to resolve all issues between India and Pakistan bilaterally."
On Tuesday, Minister for External Affairs Subramanyam Jaishankar reiterated that Prime Minister Narendra Modi never sought Trump’s assistance on an issue that remains strictly bilateral, sanctified within several framework agreements.
“No offer has been made to Trump to mediate on the Jammu and Kashmir issue. All issues with Pakistan are to be discussed bilaterally in accordance to the Shimla Agreement and the Lahore Declaration. I hope my categorical and specific denial leaves no confusion in anyone’s mind," Jaishankar said on the floor of the Rajya Sabha.
#WATCH: EAM S Jaishankar speaks in Rajya Sabha over the statement of US President Donald Trump that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had asked him to mediate in Kashmir issue. He says, "I would like to categorically assure the House that no such request has been made by PM Modi..." pic.twitter.com/gWjAa32bMO
— ANI (@ANI) July 23, 2019
Though the Opposition is up in arms — Rahul Gandhi has posted a tweet where he seems to be putting more faith in Trump’s words than India’s denial — because it doesn’t want to let go of the chance to cause discomfiture to the government, it is inconceivable that India would call for third party mediation on Kashmir after having consistently and resolutely refused any such mechanism for decades. To think that Modi, out of all prime ministers, would unilaterally challenge this position is delusional and absurd.
President Trump says PM Modi asked him to mediate between India & Pakistan on Kashmir!
If true, PM Modi has betrayed India’s interests & 1972 Shimla Agreement.
A weak Foreign Ministry denial won’t do. PM must tell the nation what transpired in the meeting between him & @POTUS
— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) July 23, 2019
It doesn’t surprise to learn, as media reports have noted, that both the Indian and US side have no record of Kashmir being mentioned when Modi met Trump on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Osaka in June 2019. An article in Economic Times, quoting sources, reports that “both sides have checked their official records of discussion and found no mention of what Trump claimed.”
While Modi’s and India’s integrity on this issue is documented, Trump — to put it mildly — has made a habit out of lying and shifting positions. During his bilateral with Khan, the US president gave Pakistan a clean chit. While blaming Iran for falsehood and propaganda, Trump looked at Khan and said, “I don’t think Pakistan would ever do a thing like that, right? Pakistan never lies." A delighted Khan chimed in: "Definitely not."
It was only in January last year that Trump woke up from the bed and tweeted: “The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools. They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!”
The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools. They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 1, 2018
The sad truth is that the 45th President of the United States is a pathological liar. A fact-check by Washington Post finds that ever since assuming office at the White House, Trump has made 10,796 false or misleading claims in 869 days. The database is updated till 7 July, 2019. Among some of his bizarre lies, Trump has said that the Mexico-US barrier (the Wall) “is under construction and moving along quickly, despite all of the Radical Liberal Democrat lawsuits. What are they thinking as our Country is invaded by so many people (illegals) and things (Drugs) that we do not want". The fact-checker points out that Trump’s claim is false. The Wall is not yet being built. Trump has repeated this lie 172 times.
India’s position on Kashmir has all along been consistent, clear and unambiguous. It is not open to the issue being used as leverage, even for a maverick US president for whom every considered diplomatic position is a bargaining chip to be used for negotiation in cutting a deal. In this case, the ‘dealmaker’ may have bitten off more than he can chew.
The moot question, therefore, is why did Trump lie? There could be several reasons. One, the US President is seeking to cool off Washington’s relationship with Islamabad because without Pakistan’s help he will not be able to secure an Afghanistan “exit deal” and deliver a foreign policy “win” to his base ahead of the 2020 US presidential campaign. Trump’s overture to Khan — which clearly delighted the Pakistan prime minister because he got more than he sought for — is a recent realisation for the US president that his leverage over Pakistan is nonexistent when it comes to America’s compulsions in Afghanistan.
Pakistan’s geostrategic location — which the rogue, terror-sponsoring, double-dealing nation has used to great advantage in the past — remains Khan’s biggest trump card (pun intended). Trump tried talking tough with Pakistan and cutting off aid and military training assistance but America’s fast-disappearing patience over an 18-year-old war has restricted Trump’s options.
As per an article in Foreign Policy, “Washington knows that if it provokes Islamabad with overly harsh measures, Pakistan can use its most powerful tool of leverage — suspending the supply routes on its soil used to convey materials for the US and other NATO militaries in Afghanistan. This happened once before, in 2011, after NATO helicopters killed 24 Pakistani border troops. Islamabad kept the routes closed for more than seven months until US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued an apology for the border incident."
In Trump’s mind, letting Khan hear what he wants to hear — and even some more — could be a great way to gain his attention and get Islamabad to put pressure on Taliban so that the 1 September deadline for the sham Afghanistan “Peace Process” can be stuck to.
Given the categorical denials issued by the US State Department and several senators on Capitol Hill — who have called Trump “amateurish and delusional” and his “mistake” an “embarrassment”, it is evident that Trump is on his own here. The ‘dealmaker’ probably thought that he could get away by bluffing his way with Khan because India has so far shown itself to be a responsible strategic partner that is careful about public statements but he probably misunderstood, or worse, wasn’t aware of the sensitivity of the Kashmir issue.
US Representative Eliot L Engel, Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, for instance, apologised to Indian ambassador to the US Harsh Vardhan Shringla, and "reiterated his support for the longstanding US position on the Kashmir dispute, saying he supported dialogue between India and Pakistan, but reaffirmed that the dialogue’s pace and scope can only be determined by India and Pakistan. He reaffirmed that in order for dialogue to be meaningful, Pakistan must first take concrete and irreversible steps to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure on Pakistan’s soil".
The other reason why Trump may have blustered on Kashmir is that he possibly thought this issue could be used as a bargaining chip during the trade negotiations with India to deliver a “trade win” to his base.
Trump is probably unaware that his idiotic falsehoods could be immediately and categorically refuted by a country, and that this may harm the diplomatic relations with a nation whom the US needs more to act as a counterforce to its upstart rival China. Trump’s ignorance and vainglorious nature have probably undone decades of painstaking diplomacy between India and the US.
This is where the Indian government, the foreign policy establishment and most of all, the media, needs to keep a cool head. The US-India ties will survive Trump’s idiocy. It is a symbiotic relationship where both nations have much to gain from each other. Let not a “genius” in the White House derail that trajectory.
Updated Date: Jul 23, 2019 17:16:44 IST