Trump-ed By Mediation Broadside?

Judge the utterances and actions of Donald Trump on the basis of his evolution and the history of India-United States-Pakistan equation

Narendra Modi Donald Trump Imran Khan

Against India’s tough stand not to allow any world power to interfere in the country’s bilateral matters, more specifically the Kashmir imbroglio, anyone attempting to create uncalled for illusion, discontent and misconception on this account is worthy of rebuke and rebuttal, even if the source of intrigue happens to be United States President Donald Trump. In response to a beleaguered, visiting Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan‘s request for his mediation on the Kashmir dispute, Trump reportedly not only agreed to intercede but also falsely claimed that “Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi also asked me to mediate”.

President Trump reportedly told a joint US-Pakistan meeting on Monday, “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 think they would like to see it resolved and you (Imran Khan) would like to see it resolved. If I can help, I would love to be a mediator,” said Trump.

But India promptly rubbished the claim, clarifying that Prime Minister Modi never asked for his mediation. The US also is in a damage-control mode, with several lawmakers calling Trump’s statement “amateurish” and “embarrassing”. Union External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar rejected Trump’s claim in the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday, stating that no mediation request was made by the Prime Minister. “I would like to categorically assure the House that no such request has been made by Prime Minister Modi. It has been India’s consistent position that all outstanding issues with Pakistan are discussed only bilaterally. Any engagement with Pakistan would require an end to cross-border terrorism”, he said, adding, “The Shimla Agreement and the Lahore declaration provide the basis to resolve all issues between India and Pakistan bilaterally.”

What Modi might have meant in talks with Trump

As one can understand the situation, the prime minister might have asked Trump to exert his influence and pressure on the insensible, rogue state to stop cross-border terrorism, if the peace were to be restored in the subcontinent. That much of Prime Minister Modi’s concern was ostensibly taken to mean his plea for Trump interposition and requested arbitration. Was not that deliberately twisted to misrepresent Modi’s stand on dialogue with Pakistan?

One wonders why such a top leader of a powerful country like the US chose to convolute a simple statement of a feeling of disquiet into a very complex, controversial matter and, in the process, got badly bruised. Why did Trump go overboard pushing his fabrication that far is too mysterious and intriguing?

And there is sufficient, incontrovertible evidence of Modi attempting no direct mediation bid, as is stated surprisingly in some plain, unambiguous words by President Trump. None of the meetings between Modi and Trump was ever followed by a statement confirming that India had placed a formal request for US arbitration in Kashmir. Nor had Trump ever stated that Modi wanted him to intercede in resolving the long-drawn tangle that has defied resolution for decades. How come, then, such an illusion and sham of pretence has gained ground, wholly unfounded and baseless?

Experience suggests that Modi is a very tough negotiator who is canny in bargaining, whose political astuteness and mental framework can never accept misplaced compromises and deals that may hurt the nation’s interests today or at a later date.

Proclivity of Trump and more

In fact, Trump is in the habit of going overboard. During a talk on climate change earlier, Trump had lost his equanimity when he had stated that India and China were the biggest polluters in the world and not the US! Against this, the fact is that while India and China are now insignificant polluters, their cumulative contributions to climate change are much smaller than those of the US. Experts figure out that India and China are responsible for only 10% and 6% respectively of the current level of global warming, while the US contribution is 23%.

In yet another misplaced statement, Trump claimed that “India will be allowed to double its coal production by 2020.” This claim is meaningless, meant to confuse global opinion, as India has already agreed to boost non-fossil fuels’ share of its installed electric power capacity to 40% by 2030. This target makes it doubtful that India would double its coal production by 2020. Trump made an unsubstantiated claim again when he claimed that “India makes its participation contingent on receiving billions and billions and billions of dollars in foreign aid from developed countries.”

Before he became the US president, Trump successfully ran a multi-billion dollar business for decades before taking the plunge into the political space. He might not have cared to measure up the repercussions of such a statement. He picked up words Modi never spoke. No doubt, Trump took some friendly, India-centric decisions also, but those lose meaning when he is hitting this country hard in the matter of trade and several other global issues.

The blooper in an otherwise remarkably improving bilateral ties between India and the US calls for a historical perspective. India erred in choosing the right partner in the global arena after independence. The choice of the USSR pushed the US towards Pakistan. Being an administration that is (legally) lobby-driven, the US hosted policy advocates with Pakistani interest at heart in its ranks. While the tide in Pakistan’s favour has been ebbing since the end of the Cold War, vestiges of the bygone warm US-Pakistan relations remain. That may throw up an awkward situation like that of this week once in a while. Remember, Trump’s is not the only American quarter from which a one-off jarring note is sounded. And that is because of its lobby system. Now, who is to blame for the wrong choice in the initial years of independence?

Nehru’s Kashmir policy brought pain to India

Jawaharlal Nehru had not got it all wrong internationally alone. He made a mess in the domestic circuit as well. Modi has often stated that had the first prime minister not accepted the asymmetrical and crooked Kashmir draft prepared under his ‘friend’ Sheikh Abdullah’s supervision, with multiple “divisive, unequal and anti-Hindu clauses” being in place, the initial, simmering dispute would never have grown into an elephantine crisis that India is facing today by way of intractable Kashmir tangle, ominously whipped up by Kashmiri secessionists. Articles 370 and 35A have together proved a heavy liability on the country.

In the light of Kashmir’s existing complexities, the talk of Modi suggesting Trump mediation for a Kashmir solution looks part of a conspiracy of the Pakistani lobby and a sustained vilification campaign, verboten and wholly out of bounds. Prime Minister Modi is for peace in Kashmir and is always willing for bilateral talks, but his only precondition for Islamabad is: ‘Stop cowardly terror onslaughts, wipe out your blood-hungry criminal outfits and come to the negotiating table.’ But pitifully, Army and ISI-controlled Pakistani rulers believe that they can capture Kashmir through their dirty, bloody acts of its multiple terror squads, now relentlessly engaged in a proxy war.

Opposition finds ammo to attack government

Meanwhile, the opposition mounted a vociferous attack on the government in the Lok Sabha over Trump’s remarks. UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi came well prepared, too, passing on the transcript of Trump’s remarks on Kashmir to party leader Manish Tewari, who was leading the Congress’ attack on the issue. Union minister Jitendra Singh counterattacked, stating: “The leaders who have lost are trying to find their trump card in Trump. The Ministry of External Affairs has clarified in the Lok Sabha. The Congress still has the sour thought of Nehru taking the Kashmir issue to the UN.”

But then, the prime minister did well not to walk into the trap laid by the leftist opposition, which cannot stand India’s constantly bettering ties with the US. Modi has not yielded to the demand of appearing in Parliament to speak on Trump’s statement. If he were to accede to the demand, our bilateral diplomacy could turn a more difficult proposition.

But Imran still ‘unhappy’

Pakistan leaders also took time to rap the Modi government. A damn frustrated, US-snubbed Imran Khan tweeted with anger and hatred, “Surprised by the reaction of India to Pres Trump’s offer of mediation to bring Pak & India to (the) dialogue table for resolving Kashmir conflict which has held subcontinent hostage for 70 yrs. Generations of Kashmiris have suffered & are suffering daily and need conflict resolution.”

Pakistan is broke today. Its economy is doldrums. It’s bending under heavy debts, with no resources to pay back global loans. In this scenario, even Trump hinted that he is unlikely to lift the freeze of security assistance to Pakistan till the time he is satisfied with Islamabad’s actions against the terrorist network. We have been paying $1.3 billion to Pakistan in aid for many years. The problem is Pakistan has not been anything for us,” Trump told Imran during his first meeting. Is the Pakistan prime minister, then, drawing a blank from his current visit to the US? Maybe, but its lobbies will not give up. And India has to master the art of cautious and proportionate response to words and actions of the United States.