WASHINGTON: Mired in his own scandal involving allegedly using foreign nations for domestic political gains, US President Donald Trump on Wednesday cavalierly asked India and Pakistan to “work it out, fellas,” even as both countries made contrasting cases before a global audience about developments in the Indian subcontinent.
Having met both India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistani number Imran Khan and having exuded totally different vibes during each encounter, Trump chose his wrap-up press conference at the UN to repeat that he has offered arbitration or mediation, but in the face of Indian rejection of his role, he hoped they would sort it out themselves given “they are at serious odds right now”.
“With respect to Pakistan and India, we talked about Kashmir. And whatever help I can be, I said — I offered, whether it’s arbitration or mediation, or whatever it has to be, I’ll do whatever I can. Because they’re at very serious odds right now, and hopefully that’ll get better.”
“You look at the two gentlemen heading those two countries — two good friends of mine — I said, ‘Fellas, work it out. Just work it out.’ Those are two nuclear countries. They’ve got to work it out,” he added.
India’s response to Trump’s repeated offer has been a measured rebuff of third-party mediation in an issue Pakistan committed by treaty to resolving bilaterally, while reiterating that it will only talk to Islamabad when Pakistan has fully abjured the use of terrorism, not just in Kashmir, but in all of India. New Delhi repeated that it will never negotiate at gunpoint, which it says is essentially what Pakistan has been trying to force India to do.
Taking the floor at the Center on Foreign Relations where Imran Khan warned in an overwrought presentation on Tuesday of massacres, genocide, and nuclear war flowing from India’s moves in Kashmir, India’s foreign minister S. Jaishankar calmly told an audience of foreign policy experts that Pakistan’s issues with India went far beyond Kashmir, arguing that it is essentially a failing state that is bent on preventing India from forging a better union.
The difficulties in Kashmir did not begin on August 5 when India scrapped special status for Jammu and Kashmir, Jaishankar explained; it was the day India began addressing long-festering problems because Pakistan-sponsored terrorism and intimidation had reached a height where senior police officers were lynched on the streets of Srinagar, journalists who wrote against separatism were assassinated, military personnel returning home for Eid were kidnapped and killed.
Asked why India and Pakistan had stopped playing cricket, Jaishankar said the government had to take public sentiments into account in a democracy and one “cannot have terror by night and cricket by day”.
The Indian establishment in New York has made it clear to the US and other interlocutors that it is not averse to talking to Pakistan if it abjured terrorism in all its forms against it neighbours.
“Issue is not whether to talk or not, everybody wants to talk to their neighbour. The issue is how do I talk to a country that is conducting terrorism and follows a policy of implausible deniability,” Jaishankar said. “You have terrorism in different parts of the world, but there is no part of the world where a country uses it consciously and deliberately as a large-scale industry against its neighbor,” he added.
While India remains steadfast in the demand that Pakistan roll back its terror infrastructure before any talks, Islamabad’s efforts to convince the world that it is doing so suffered multiple setbacks this week. First up, Prime Minister Imran Khan publicly, and perhaps unwittingly, confirmed that the Pakistani military and its intelligence agency ISI trained Al Qaeda and maintained contacts even after the Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan. Embarrassed Pakistani officials tried to finesse and roll back the admission with help from a compliant media, but it remained on record on video.
Compounding the gaffe came the disclosure on Wednesday that Pakistan had pleaded with the UN in August to allow designated terrorist Hafiz Saeed to access Rs 1.5 lakh from his bank account for “personal expenses”. Saeed’s assets had been frozen after the UNSC sanctioned him under Resolution 1267 for links with the Al Qaeda and Islamic State (IS).
Absent any objection from other countries, the UN reportedly approved Pakistan’s request. It was not immediately clear why other member countries did not object to funding a designated terrorist, but the episode illustrated that Islamabad remained concerned about the well-being of terrorists it has nurtured.
Meanwhile, Pakistan’s efforts to rouse the world to its case on Kashmir bore some fruit with the Kashmir contact group of the OIC (Organisation of Islamic Cooperation) expressing concern about the situation. But Indian officials remained confident that Islamic countries, beyond the diplomatic compulsions of mollifying Pakistan, understood New Delhi’s stand, pointing to the vigorous engagement Prime Minister Modi has been having with many OIC leaders.