Five controversial remarks Donald Trump made before his talks with Imran Khan

Five controversial remarks Donald Trump made before his talks with Imran Khan

The comments made by U.S. President at the White House on July 22 could raise red flags in New Delhi and other capitals, and his purported conversation with Narendra Modi on Kashmir is just one of them.

The government stated in Parliament that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had never asked the U.S. President to mediate or arbitrate on the Kashmir issue, as stated by Donald Trump during a joint press meet on Monday with Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan.

The Ministry of External Affairs issued a statement reiterating India’s traditional policy of handling all issues with Pakistan “bilaterally”, without a third party involved.

The US undersecretary of state for South Asia Alice Wells sought to calm tempers by tweeting, “ 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.”

However, Mr. Trump’s comments on Mr. Modi’s alleged offer on Kashmir are far from the only comments he made during the press meet held at the White House on July 22 that will raise red flags in New Delhi and other capitals:

Donald Trump on Kashmir

“It’s supposed to be such a beautiful part of the world. But right now there’s just bombs all over the place. They say everywhere you go, you have bombs and it’s a terrible situation. Been going on for many years. If I can do anything to help that, let me know.”

Not since the first term of U.S. President Bill Clinton, has an American president spoken out as clearly about the issue of Kashmir, especially of violence in Jammu and Kashmir. The only exceptions have been times when U.S. Presidents have condemned terror attacks in Jammu and Kashmir, and seldom has a U.S. President allowed himself to be drawn out on the issue during a meeting with a Pakistan Prime Minister.

In 2013 and 2015, for example, during the Obama-Sharif meetings at the White House, former Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif mentioned resolving “outstanding issues with India, including Kashmir”, but Mr. Obama didn’t refer to it.

Speaking about India to Pakistan

“I will say that we have a very good relationship with India. I know that your relationship is strained a little bit. Maybe a lot. But we will be talking about India; a very big part of our conversation today. And I think maybe if we can help intercede and do whatever we have to do. But I think it’s something that can be brought back together.

I have a very good relationship with Prime Minister Modi. And I think we’re going to have a phenomenal relationship with the Prime Minister of Pakistan. I do think that it’s a two-way street. You know, you say India is coming in and destabilizing Pakistan, but India is saying that Pakistan is coming in and destabilizing. So there’s a lot of room right there where we can meet.”

In his opening remarks, Mr. Trump said twice that he and Mr. Khan would be speaking “a lot” about India during their conversation. This is itself a strange diplomatic precedent, as bilateral talks are meant to focus on bilateral issues.

Mr. Trump then proceeded to say the US could “help intercede” in the strained India-Pakistan relationship. New Delhi will also not be pleased by Mr. Trump’s attempt to equate India and Pakistan on the issue of “destabilisation” or sponsoring “non-state actors”.

Mediation and arbitration

“If I can help, I would love to be a mediator. It shouldn’t be — I mean, it’s impossible to believe two incredible countries that are very, very smart, with very smart leadership, can’t solve a problem like that. But if you want me to mediate or arbitrate, I would be willing to do that.”

For India, the bilateral resolution of all issues with Pakistan is red-line that was accepted by Pakistan during the Bhutto-Gandhi Shimla Agreement of 1972, and repeated in the Vajpayee-Sharif Lahore declaration of 1999. It, therefore, should have been clear to Mr. Trump that no matter what he thought Mr. Modi was speaking of, “mediation and arbitration” on Kashmir is not something any Indian Prime Minister would request.

In the 1965 war, Kargil war, or other conflicts, and even during the Balakot strikes, several countries have contacted both New Delhi and Islamabad in an effort to bring down tensions, but India has not accepted the idea of mediation or resolving issues through a third party interlocutor at any point.

Divulging privileged conversations

“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. I was surprised at how long; it’s been going on a long —”

The truth is, even if Mr. Modi were to have said anything remotely resembling Mr. Trump’s recollection of the conversation in Osaka, it is a breach of international diplomacy to divulge the comments publicly, without Mr. Modi’s permission, and in front of the leader of another country.

This is not the first time either. In February 2018, Mr. Trump had given out details of what should have been a private telephone conversation with Mr. Modi on the Harley Davidson issue.

On Pakistan’s role in Afghanistan

“I think Pakistan will save millions of lives in Afghanistan because I really believe that they can — they have a power that other nations don’t have with respect to Afghanistan….And I will say, as of this moment, they’re working very hard and very nicely, and we appreciate it.

“I think Pakistan is going to help us out to extricate ourselves. We’re like policemen. We’re not fighting the war. If we wanted to fight a war in Afghanistan and win it, I could win that war in a week. I just don’t want to kill 10 million people. Does that make sense to you? I don’t want to kill 10 million people.”

Mr. Trump’s articulation of the resolution in Afghanistan is not just at variance with the view shared in New Delhi and Kabul, but at complete odds with the US’s own ‘South Asia policy’ announced by the President himself in August 2017.

This new solution appears to credit Pakistan with “power” over Afghanistan, as opposed to calling it out on safe havens for the Taliban, fighting terror groups and urging it not to interfere in Afghanistan at all.

Mr. Trump’s repeated references to deploying the “Mother of All Bombs” (MOAB) on Afghanistan, and his decision against “winning the war” by “killing 10 million” people are troubling as well. Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani’s office issued a detailed rebuttal to these comments on Tuesday evening, and called for the U.S. to clarify Mr. Trump’s comments, saying, “The Afghan nation has not and will never allow any foreign power to determine its fate….Given the multifaceted relationship between Afghanistan and the United States, the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan calls for clarification on the US President’s statements expressed at a meeting with the Pakistan prime minister, via diplomatic means and channels.”

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