It is always amusing to note the sound of indignation in Indian media's tone whenever Donald Trump picks up the topic of "mediation" for the Kashmir issue. Only on Sunday the US president joined Narendra Modi's rip-roaring public rally at Houston and appeared to endorse India's Kashmir policy, Pakistan's sponsorship of global terror and India's national security concerns. His appearance, speech and visible bonhomie with the prime mimister had received unequivocal positive coverage in India.
Just a day after, Indian media is in deep depression and Modi baiters — who remained dispirited looking at the spirit between Modi and Trump — have sprung into action. The cause: Trump has renewed his "Kashmir mediation" offer after meeting visiting Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan. It is being said that whatever political capital Modi had earned for India in Houston with Trump by his side has been washed away with the mention of the word "mediation".
Wow! Wow! That rally i guess meant very little to the Most Powerful Man in the World.
— Rezaul Hasan Laskar (@Rezhasan) September 23, 2019
This argument, that raising the "mediation offer" has wiped out India's diplomatic gains is in part amusing and inexplicable. A readout of the Trump-Khan news conference released by the White House reveals that Trump was repeatedly being asked (ostensibly by Pakistani journalists) whether the US president would be ready to mediate between the two sides on Kashmir.
Realistically, what may Trump have done while responding to the question? Avoid answering it, or deviate from his earlier stated position that he is ready to mediate should both countries agree to it? Both these are unrealistic expectations. Trump did what any leader in his place would have done.
Faced with the recurring question from Pakistani journalists, the US President reiterated his earlier stance, that he is ready to mediate, but on each occasion, he made it crystal clear that his role of mediation depends on both parties agreeing to the idea. Let's run through two sets of questions and answers based on the White House press release.
"Q: Mr. President, after your last meeting with the Prime Minister, you offered to mediate between India and Pakistan over Kashmir. And since then, the situation has gotten more complicated, and India continues to deny our access in the region. So where does the offer stand now on (inaudible)?
PRESIDENT TRUMP: It would always stand. If I can help, I would certainly do that. And it will be dependent on both of these gentlemen. One without the other doesn't work, if you're going to do mediation or if you're going to do an arbitration.
But certainly, I would be willing to help if both wanted. If both Pakistan, let's say, and India wanted me to do that, I am ready, willing, and able. It's a complex issue. It's been going on for a long time. But if both wanted it, I would be ready to do it."
As we can see from the exchange, Trump mentions quite clearly that his offer is valid only if India agrees to it, and India's oft-stated position has been that all issues pertaining to the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir is strictly India's sovereign and internal matter. Essentially, therefore, Trump was selling the visiting Pakistani delegation and journalists a lolly. Let us look at a second exchange that took place between the POTUS and the Pakistani media.
On another question from an indignant Pakistani journalist on how will Trump possibly ask both parties to "accept" status quo when India, as he claimed, was the "aggressor", Trump first asked the Pakistani reporter whether he is a "member of this team (Imran Khan-led delegation)" and then sarcastically remarked: "I like this reporter".
He then proceeded to answer the journalist's "statement" (as he called it) by saying that on US mediation "you have to have a — they have to have two parties that want to agree… I have a very good relationship with Prime Minister Modi. I have a very good relationship with Prime Minister Khan… And if at any time they say, "You know, we have some points that we think we can maybe iron out," I think I'd be an extremely good arbitrator. I've done it before, believe it or not, and I've never failed as an arbitrator… If I can be of help — you know that — if I can be of help, let me know. But you'd have to have the assent also from the other side."
There is no ambiguity in Trump's words. He is giving nothing away and making no promises to Pakistan. Trump is aware that India will never agree to a third-party mediation on Kashmir, and therefore his words here are little more than a placebo for country who is suffering collective heartburn over Kashmir.
On persistent questioning on the "human rights situation in Kashmir" — another bit of Pakistani propaganda — Trump's wishy-washy reply made it clear that the White House is unwilling to sermonise India on Kashmir. This is in stark contrast with Trump's conduct just a day earlier when the US President showered effusive praise on Modi's leadership and appeared to understand and ratify India's Kashmir policy. Monday's exchange with Pakistani journalist, once again, is instructive.
"Q: Are you concerned about the human rights situation in Kashmir?
PRESIDENT TRUMP: About which?
Q: Human rights situation - human rights violations.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: Sure. I'd like to see everything work out. I want it to be humane. I want everybody to be treated well. You have two big countries, and they're warring countries and they've been fighting."
On another question on the same issue, once again Trump's reply is worth noting.
"Q: Other than Pakistan and India, the Kashmiri people are suffering the last 50 days. They will talk later on, but right now there was human rights violation in Kashmir. Fifty days lockdown - no Internet, no food, nothing. So, you know, what do you want do for the Kashmiri people?
PRESIDENT TRUMP: Where do you find reporters like this? (Laughter.) These guys are fantastic."
[As an aside: The questions from Pakistani journalists present were so targeted, estb-friendly, & one-track minded that at one point Trump asked a journo, "are you a member of [Imran's] team or..."
& then later he asked Imran approvingly, "where do you find reporters like this"]
— Tanvi Madan (@tanvi_madan) September 23, 2019
If I was the Pakistani PM, my blood pressure would have shot up looking at Trump's frivolity on questions that are seemingly of existential importance to Pakistan. This frivolity, however, is deliberate.
There is no reason to think that Trump fails to understand what Pakistan is trying. Both the nation's delegation — led by a beleaguered PM — and indignant journalists want an iron-clad commitment from Trump on pressurising India to reconsider its move on Kashmir. Pakistan has been trying everything — from righteous indignation, naked flattery of POTUS to putting a gun to its head to force a negotiation — but so far the rogue nation has been unable to get a commitment from Trump who just a day before from Modi's platform before a 50,000-strong Indian-American crowd vowed to keep fighting against "radical Islamic/Islamist terrorism".
Indian media need not lose its sleep over Trump's mediation offer. He has given Pakistan absolutely nothing except some pacifiers to keep them from crying. In contrast, India's narrative on Kashmir seems to have gained a modicum of approval in fiercely critical western media with at least one commentator in New York Times backing Modi government's move on the abrogation of Article 370.
To sum, Trump's meeting with Khan and the news conference will offer no ray of hope to Pakistan. Indian media needs to take a deep breath.
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Updated Date: Sep 24, 2019 15:38:59 IST