US President Donald Trump on Friday finally put to rest a controversy he had stirred himself by telling Prime Minister Imran Khan in a phone call that Pakistan and India should reduce tensions over Jammu and Kashmir through a “bilateral dialogue”. There was no reference to his earlier offer to mediate.
In response to a question from a reporter, President Trump had made the offer during Prime Minister Khan’s White House visit in July, saying even Prime Minister Narendra Modi had asked him to mediate – a claim that was swiftly and summarily denied by New Delhi, which also reiterated that the Kashmir dispute can only be resolved bilaterally, and only after Pakistan stopped supporting terrorism. Trump repeated the offer in response to a question from reporters a few days later.
Both the White House and the state department had sought to walk back that offer, but ever so delicately so as to not appear to be contradicting or reversing the president. So there was no change in the US position that the Kashmir dispute must be resolved through “direct dialogue” between India and Pakistan, and that the United States stood ready to assist.
Trump has reversed himself now.
“The President conveyed the importance of India and Pakistan reducing tensions through bilateral dialogue regarding the situation in Jammu and Kashmir,” White House spokesperson Hogan Gidley said in a statement on the phone call.
Earlier this month, India nullified Article 30 and Article 35 A of the Constitution that gave special status to Jammu and Kashmir and reserved benefits such as government employment and property ownership for people deemed to be permanent residents of the state. Jammu and Kashmir was bifurcated into two Union territories – J&K and Ladakh.
The two leaders also discussed “how they will continue to build on the growing relationship between the United States and Pakistan and the momentum created during their recent meeting at the White House”, he added.
There was no reference to the mediation offer in the readout, and it could not be immediately ascertained if the Pakistani leader had brought it up or not, because Khan has, in fact, sought to build on Trump’s earlier offer and has publicly called upon him to proceed on his suggestion.
Details of Khan’s conversation with Trump were first made public by Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi who said, according to state-run Radio Pakistan, “Prime Minister Khan conveyed Pakistan’s concern on recent developments in Kashmir and the threat they pose to the regional peace.” Qureshi went on to say Khan had also called leaders of other United Nations Security Council (UNSC) permanent members.
The effort was clearly aimed at pushing Pakistan’s request to the UN and the UNSC, in letters from Qureshi, to call for an open and formal meeting of the Security Council to discuss Pakistan’s grievances on Kashmir developments. Pakistan had also sought to be allowed to address the body.
Backed only by China, Pakistan got only closed-door informal consultations, which are not recorded and reported. And are not aired live. And it also did not get a chance to address the members.
Neither Indian nor Pakistani officials were present at the consultations.