At some level, it was hilarious. The President of the United States of America going so far off the mark on a highly sensitive issue that it became difficult to understand whether he was actually aware of what he was saying. Clearly not.
Point one, Prime Minister Narendra Modi would never, under any imaginable circumstance, have asked POTUS, particularly this one, to intercede on Kashmir. Point two. His effusive praise of Imran Khan means nothing; remember he said that he 'loves' North Korea's Kim Jong-un. That's his style. Trump is nothing but focussed on winning the next election. And for that he needs to get (nearly) all his troops out of Afghanistan. This is about Trump winning, anyhow, even if it hurts someone. Hopefully, that won't mean carpet bombing the Afghanistan and thereby winning the war in 'ten days' as he put it. One can almost imagine the State Department pro's reeling in shock.
There is no doubt at all that the question on Kashmir was planted among the Pakistani media present at the time, and that POTUS rose to it like a fish at a bait. But here's the thing. Nothing has really changed. First, the whole backpedalling exercise has already begun. The South and Central Asia Desk at the State Department has already put out a statement which said, "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".
This was diplomatic jugglery of a considerable scale. The Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Rep Eliot L Engel has already called on the Indian Ambassador Harsh Shringla, and reiterated the long standing US position on Kashmir, that while the US supported dialogue, the pace and scope can only be determined by the two states. He also chose to reiterate the US position that Pakistan take 'concrete and irreversible' steps to dismantle terrorist infrastructure. The fact that such corrections have been made, and so quickly, gives some sense of the importance that the US gives to stable ties with India.
Second, don't forget that the real point of the whole exercise of calling the Pakistan Prime Minister was made absolutely clear in the "Background press call" made by the White House on 19 July. It clearly said that the visit was meant to 'incentivise' Pakistan to go ahead further on bringing the Taliban to the table. Further it was amply clear that in actual discussions, Pakistan was pressed hard on Afghanistan, asked to provide connectivity between India and Afghanistan, and continue with curbing terrorism. This time round, there is one thing that is different from earlier visits of Pakistani prime ministers — there is no illusion at all in the State Department or anywhere else that the Pakistani milt-establishment will try their best to wriggle out of their anti -terrorism commitments in an effort to have the cake and eat it too.
Here's what Islamabad would like to do. Having got this somewhat confused commitment from POTUS about mediating or arbitrating in Kashmir, they will try their best to link further progress in Afghanistan to 'at least' opening a dialogue with India — with Kashmir as one of the subjects for dialogue.
In other words, a revival of the Composite Dialogue, that was an idea mooted in May 1997, and with little relevance to today's India. Both the State Department and the Ministry of External Affairs in India will expect this. Both have to stay firm — the US because such linkage has never worked in the past and never will, simply because the Taliban in Afghanistan and the terrorist cess pool in Pakistan are one and the same. There is now adequate understanding that lines cant be drawn between the bad guys in Afghanistan and the ones elsewhere.
The MEA will also hopefully ignore the reference to Kashmir entirely. This is an unfortunate error and needs to be treated as such. Certainly the political opposition in India will try to ramp up the "mediation" offer, with National Conference leader Omar Abdullah already on Twitter questioning the governments stance.
Personally I think @realDonaldTrump is talking out of his hat when he says @PMOIndia asked for US involvement in solving the Kashmir issue but I’d like to see @MEAIndia call Trump out on his claim. https://t.co/JRlH4mehrp
— Omar Abdullah (@OmarAbdullah) July 22, 2019
— Omar Abdullah (@OmarAbdullah) July 22, 2019
To fight this out on social media is unnecessary, particularly after the extent officials have gone to limit the damage. Omar knows — more than others — that India's position on Kashmir is not just a grand statement, but one codified in the Simla Agreement of 1972. He is also probably aware that the bilateral aspect has been recognised and respected by at least the last three Administrations in the United States not for any moral reasons, but because it suits them to do so.
Another serious error could also be made in the immediate future. Islamabad may try for another serious terrorist attack with a view to goad India into retaliation, and thus raking up 'international' attention at what it sees as a propitious time. That would be unfortunate in the extreme— for Pakistan.
Here's the truth. The issue here is not Kashmir or even Afghanistan. It is that the mess that Pakistan has fallen into — the Pakistan rupee stands at 162 to the dollar — has been precisely due to its patronage of jihadis of all kinds for the last three decades.
Imran Khan is right on some things. When he spoke to a cheering audience of 30,000 Pakistanis at the "Town Hall' meeting at Capital One auditorium, he recalled correctly, how Pakistan was once the pride of South Asia. In the early 1980's Pakistan's GDP was far more than any other country in the region. From then to now, how the tide had changed.
Today, Pakistan is as close as it ever has been, on the path to becoming a failed state. The central reason for that has been the sponsorship of terrorism, and the seepage of that ideology into the military, the intelligence services and some parts of the body politic. To get out of the mess into which it has fallen, Pakistan has not just got to shut down terrorist camps, it has to erase the very basis for this ideology of violence and hate that goes with it. That means firstly publicly admitting that interfering in Afghanistan was a mistake, and helping the Afghans to get back to their feet.
The second is to end the Kashmir issue by recognising that its not worth forcing about 200 million Pakistanis to commit collective suicide for a cause its never going to win. The step towards this is to finally give Gilgit Baltistan the full province status that it desires. That in turn makes the CPEC a legally tenable corridor. The final solution to its troubles lies in Pakistani hands. It just has to realise it.
Updated Date: Jul 23, 2019 10:49:57 IST