INDIA’S prime minister Narendra Modi never asked US president Donald Trump to help mediate with Pakistan over Kashmir, the government said on Tuesday (23), after Trump’s comments set off a storm of criticism.
Trump told reporters on Monday (22) that Modi had asked him, during a meeting in Japan last month, if he would like to be a mediator on Kashmir, which is claimed by both India and Pakistan.
Trump was speaking at the White House just before he sat down for talks with Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan who welcomed the US effort to intercede, saying he would carry the hopes of more than a billion people in the region.
The US president said: “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.'”
Trump said he “was surprised at how long” the Kashmir conflict has festered.
“If I can help, I would love to be a mediator,” said the president, who prides himself on being a dealmaker.
“Right now there’s just bombs all over the place. They say everywhere you go you have bombs and it’s a terrible situation… If I can do anything to help that, let me know.”
But the comments triggered a political storm in India which has long bristled at any suggestion of third-party involvement in tackling Kashmir.
“The US president made certain remarks to the effect he was ready to mediate if requested by India and Pakistan,” foreign minister S Jaishankar told the Indian parliament, barely able to make his voice heard over the opposition tumult.
“I categorically assure the house that no such request has been made by the prime minister, I repeat, no such request was made.”
Jaishankar insisted the conflict could only be settled bilaterally and that Pakistan had to end “cross-border terrorism” before any talks.
Jaishankar, who was part of the Indian delegation at the G20 meeting in Japan where Trump and Modi met, said there could be no third-party involvement in India’s problems with Pakistan.
“I also reiterate that it has been India’s position that all outstanding issues are discussed only bilaterally. I further underline any engagement with Pakistan would require an end to cross-border terrorism.”
Trump’s comments touched on one of the most sensitive topics for New Delhi.
Pakistan has long pressed for the implementation of a decades-old UN resolutions calling for a ballot for the region to decide its future. India says the United Nations has no role in Kashmir, where separatist militants have been battling Indian forces for years.
Pakistan denies Indian accusations that it gives material help to the militants fighting Indian rule in Kashmir for nearly three decades, but says it gives moral and diplomatic support to the Kashmiri people in their struggle for self-determination.
Indian opposition leaders demanded that Modi make a personal statement to parliament to confirm that there was no change in New Delhi’s longstanding policy of only direct talks with Islamabad.
Khan – on an official visit to the US – stirred the controversy further by saying Kashmir could only be resolved with outside help.
“I can tell you right now Mr President you will have the prayers of over a billion people if you can mediate and resolve this issue,” Khan said.
“Bilaterally, there will never be (an end to the Kashmir conflict),” he told Fox News, adding that Pakistan and India were “poles apart”.
“I really feel that India should come… (to) the table. The US could play a big part, President Trump certainly can play a big part.”
Trump’s comments risked further straining political ties with India which are already under pressure over trade.
Soon after the president’s remarks, the US State Department said in a post on Twitter that it supported any dialogue between India and Pakistan, but that Kashmir was a matter for the two countries.
“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,” it said.
The Democratic chairman of the US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, Eliot Engel, spoke to the Indian ambassador to say there was no change in the US position on Kashmir, the committee said on Twitter.
“Engel reiterated his support for the longstanding US position on the Kashmir dispute, saying he supported dialogue between India & Pakistan, but the dialogue’s pace & scope can only be determined by India & Pakistan.”
He also said that Pakistan must “dismantle the terrorist infrastructure” for any meaningful dialogue with India.
Tension between India and Pakistan has been high since an attack on an Indian military convoy in Kashmir in February claimed by a Pakistan-based militant group prompted India to send warplanes into Pakistan.
Pakistan retaliated by ordering its jets into India’s side of Kashmir the following day.
But the crisis was averted after Pakistan returned an Indian pilot who was shot down and captured.
Kashmiri separatists welcomed the US intervention.
Kashmir separatist leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq said he would support any effort to end the conflict in the region in which tens of thousands have been killed, and the people of Kashmir would welcome Trump’s intervention.