WASHINGTON: The United States on Sunday delivered a devastating snub to Pakistan by announcing that President Trump will attend a rally in Houston next Sunday with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The US gesture comes amid a virulent and abusive campaign by Islamabad against the Indian PM in its efforts to highlight the Kashmir issue.
Unmindful of criticism from liberal quarters about the human rights and civil liberties situation in the Muslim majority and insurgency-stricken Kashmir Valley, and ignoring Pakistan’s hate campaign, the Trump White House has chosen to engage Modi is a format that is unprecedented in modern diplomatic history – a large public rally on its home turf. With many US lawmakers from both political parties slated to attend the rally in a 50,000-capacity stadium, Pakistan is learning that common values and business ties is trumping its efforts to paint a dark and cataclysmic picture of the Kashmir situation.
The White House announcement was met with withering criticism and sarcasm in liberal quarters that sees Trump and Modi as fellow travelers on a global diplomatic circuit that includes Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu and Britain’s Boris Johnson among others. “I don’t know what’s more embarrassing – That Modi will appear beside Trump or that Trump will appear beside Modi. Both countries have my condolences,” tweeted historian Audrey Truschke, a critic of the Indian right wing. And from Karti Chidambaram, currently in the financial enforcement crosshairs in India: “Modi Bhakts and Trump Rednecks. Made for each other … The only thing that won’t be in common is the diet. “Pure Vegetarian” v “Medium Rare Steaks””
The reaction from Pakistan was stunned disbelief. “Is this for real or is it propaganda?” asked one prominent analyst, even as commentators tried to make sense of how a President who offered to mediate on the Kashmir issue and hosted Imran Khan for talks at the White House only a few weeks ago could meet with a leader who is uncompromising in his view that Kashmir is a bilateral issue and India will not negotiate with a gun to its head, until Pakistan rolls up its terror apparatus and brings the perpetrators of terror attacks against India to justice.
The short answer for Trump’s engagement with India, according to diplomats, is business and trade deficit with India, along with unwavering US view of a key role for New Delhi in the Asia Pacific region. Pakistan apparently is yet to reconcile to the idea that the Kashmir issue has been subsumed in this new US policy for South Asia and Asia Pacific. Outside of its salience in the US exit from Afghanistan, Washington does not have any equities in Pakistan.
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan has come unhinged in recent days, warning in recent days at public rallies and in interviews that the region could spiral into a nuclear war if the world did not pay heed to Islamabad’s version of the Kashmir issue that centers on its claim to the territory because it is a Muslim-majority region. New Delhi accuses Pakistan of igniting passions and insurgency in the region through infiltration of terrorists and sponsorship of separatist terror groups.
In some of the most toxic rhetoric to emerge from Pakistan following its 72-year old separation from India, Khan and his cohorts have compared Modi to Hitler and the purported ideology of the BJP and RSS to Nazism and fascism, with overwrought talk of an ongoing or imminent genocide of Muslims in Kashmir and across India. New Delhi has treated Pakistani histrionics with contempt while busily engaging the global community, which has also largely ignored Islamabad’s lament for the Kashmiris given its own dismal treatment of minorities at home. In fact, an Indian counter campaign now seems underway to highlight Pakistan’s treatment of Baloch, Ahmadis, Sindhis, Pashtuns and other disaffected communities in Pakistan.
The fact that it stands thoroughly isolated, including in the Muslim world, does not appear to have sunk into Pakistani establishment which is busy telling its citizens that Islamabad has the support of and is building alliances with countries such as Iran, Turkey, Malaysia, Russia, and of course, its patron China.
What is apparently galling for Pakistan is that Trump has agreed to appear with Modi even as Imran Khan has raised the pitch on the Kashmir issue and warned that he will be banging on the doors of the United Nations next week seeking global intervention. Modi will also be in New York at the same time.
In fact, Islamabad has been gearing up the Pakistani-community in the US and making cause with other anti-India groups such as separatist “Khalistanis” to stage demonstrations in Houston and New York in an effort to highlight its Kashmir claim during the Modi visit.
Islamabad had recently commandeered the Pakistani-American community for a rally in Washington DC in July during Imran Khan’s visit in an effort to showcase its diaspora the way Modi has done twice in New York and San Francisco over the past five years. But the Houston show is expected to put everything else in shade.
Houston also has a strong Pakistani community. In fact, when Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) bought the extended range Boeing 777 more than a decade ago, the first route planned was Karachi-Houston non-stop. But terrorist attacks on US soil by expat Pakistanis and terrorists captured in Pakistan scuppered that. PIA now has to make a stop in Manchester or Birmingham in UK for security reasons — euphemistically dubbed “refueling stop” — before flying to the US.
In Video:Modi-Trump bonhomie to continue at September 22 rally at Houston