Trump to Pakistan’s Khan: I’d Be Glad to Mediate Kashmir Dispute
But India, State Department say issue must be settled bilaterally
[Islamabad] President Donald Trump has offered to mediate the Kashmir dispute between Pakistan and India, appearing to change a longstanding US policy that the matter must be resolved bilaterally.
“If I can help, I would love to be a mediator,” Trump said on Monday at the White House, where he was hosting Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan. “If I can do anything to help, let me know.”
Khan was on a three-day visit to the US at the invitation of the president – the first summit-level engagement between Pakistan and the United States since the two men assumed office. He was received by a guard of honor while a large number of Pakistani-Americans welcomed him outside the White House.
He was accompanied to Washington by Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, army Chief of Staff Gen. Qamar Bajwa, and Lt.-Gen. Faiz Hameed, director-general of the Inter-Services Intelligence Agency.
Qureshi, addressing a news conference in Washington on Tuesday, said the delegation-level meeting had conveyed a commitment to promote peace in South Asia. He added that an earlier one-on-one meeting between Khan and Trump demonstrated a joint resolve to promote peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan.
Following their meeting, both leaders talked to the media. Trump, according to the Pakistan Press Information Department (PID), told reporters that he would “love” to go to Pakistan at the right time.
“Pakistanis are great people. I have many friends in Pakistan. They are smart and tough − no question about that. Like you, they’re tough,” Trump said, addressing Khan.
Trump added: “I was with [Indian] Prime Minister [Narendra] Modi two weeks ago and we talked about the subject. And he actually said, ‘Would you like to be a mediator, or arbitrator?’ And I said, ‘Where?’ And he said, ‘Kashmir,’ because this has been going on for many, many years. I was surprised for how long it has been going on” – at which point Khan interjected by saying 70 years.
Trump continued: “I think they [India] would like to see it resolved, and I think you [Pakistan] would like to see it resolved. And if I can help, I would love to be mediator.”
India later denied the US president’s account of his conversation with Modi.
Raveesh Kumar, spokesperson for the Indian Foreign Ministry, tweeted: “We have seen the US President’s remarks to the press that he is ready to mediate, if requested by India and Pakistan, on the Kashmir issue. No such request has been made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the US President. It has been India’s consistent position that all outstanding issues with Pakistan are discussed only bilaterally.”
During his comments to the media, the US president also said: “It’s my great honor to have the very popular – and, by the way, a great athlete − one of the greatest prime ministers of Pakistan [visit me].”
Khan, a former captain of the Pakistani cricket team, led the side to victory in the 1992 Cricket World Cup.
President Trump noted that Pakistan was helping the US advance the Afghanistan peace process.
“Pakistan is going to help us out to extricate ourselves,” he said.
According to the PID, the president added that the US had made “a lot of progress” toward ending the war in Afghanistan during negotiations with the Taliban in recent weeks.
“We’ve been there for 19 years and we’ve acted as policemen, not soldiers,” he said. “Again, if we wanted to be soldiers, we could end it in one week, 10 days. Afghanistan would be wiped off the face of the earth if such a war would take place. It would be gone. I just don’t want to kill 10 million people.”
The Media Line spoke with Michael Kugelman, deputy director in the Asia Program and a South Asia senior associate at the Wilson Center in Washington.
Kugelman said the main purpose of the White House meeting, at least from the US perspective, was to recognize the cooperation between the two parties regarding Afghanistan over the past year. He said the cordial nature of the meeting would provide additional momentum for the two sides to cooperate even more.
“Of course, whether they will be able get an increasingly confident Taliban organization, one negotiating from a position of strength, to agree to a settlement is a whole other story,” Kugelman said.
He added that he was unsure what to make of President Trump’s mediation offer on Kashmir.
“It goes against US policy and, not surprisingly, the State Department’s South Asia office tweeted out a clarification just a few hours later, asserting that Kashmir is a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan,” he told The Media Line.
“I think we can chalk up Trump’s Kashmir meditation comment to another offhand remark that likely won’t age well and will quietly be walked back by US officials in the coming days,” he added.
During the post-meeting news conference at the White House, Khan said: “There are over a billion and quarter people in the subcontinent; they are held hostage to the issue of Kashmir, and I feel that only the most powerful state, headed by President Trump, can bring the two countries together. From my point [of view], I can tell you we have tried our best. We have made all overtures to India to start a dialogue, resolve our differences through dialogue, but unfortunately, we haven’t made headway as yet. But I am hoping that President Trump would push this process.”
Dr. Firdaus Ashiq Awan, a special advisor to Khan on information and broadcasting, told The Media Line that the two leaders had held a candid conversation.
“It is a great win for Pakistan that finally Trump acknowledged the pivotal role of Pakistan in recent efforts to bring peace, and to cooperate with the US interests in Afghanistan,” Awan said.
Abdul Aleem Khan, Khan’s close aide and a senior member of the Punjab Provincial Assembly, told the Media Line that recognition of the fact that Pakistan would play a major role in the Afghan peace process, together with President Trump’s offer to mediate the Kashmir crisis, were “two bold statements” that showed the “tremendous achievements” of Khan’s diplomacy.
Jalal ud Din, a former Pakistani diplomat, told The Media Line that the Trump Administration badly needed Pakistan’s cooperation to bring peace and stability to Afghanistan before its coming presidential election, now scheduled for September 28.
A peaceful election would “clear the way for the US to withdraw troops and bring an end to America’s longest war,” he said, adding that the US wanted Islamabad’s cooperation to “pressure the Taliban to agree to a cease-fire and hold direct talks with the Afghan government.”