During this morning’s press conference with Prime Minister Imran Khan of Pakistan, President Trump announced that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had asked him to help mediate the tensions between India and Pakistan over their competing claims to the province of Kashmir.
According to Trump, India's Prime Minister Modi "actually said, 'Would you like to be a mediator or arbitrator?' I said 'Where?' He said, 'Kashmir.'"
India's official spokesman just issued statement saying: "No such request has been made by Prime Minister to the US President." pic.twitter.com/ivjhGwDHT2
— Manu Raju (@mkraju) July 22, 2019
The peace treaty which ended the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971, the Simla Agreement, mandates that all negotiations over Kashmir must be bilateral, which is why longstanding Indian government policy has been to refuse all third-party mediation, including that of the United Nations. U.S. State Department policy has similarly been to keep their noses out of the issue out of respect for the treaty.
So it’s clear how Trump’s abrupt announcement has placed the Indian government in an uncomfortable position — either they must call Trump a liar or admit that they did ask him for help, making them look weak in front of their Pakistani rivals and signaling a dramatic shift in Indian foreign policy.
Which explains the immediate and vehement denial from the Indian government.
…that all outstanding issues with Pakistan are discussed only bilaterally. Any engagement with Pakistan would require an end to cross border terrorism. The Shimla Agreement & the Lahore Declaration provide the basis to resolve all issues between India & Pakistan bilaterally.2/2
— Raveesh Kumar (@MEAIndia) July 22, 2019
The leader of the Indian Congress, Shashi Tharoor, took the Twitter to mock the president for his ignorance in a strongly worded statement that makes it clear how serious the issue is and how ignorant the president is of the consequences of his words.
I honestly don't think Trump has the slightest idea of what he's talking about. He has either not been briefed or not understood what Modi was saying or what India's position is on 3rd-party mediation. That said, MEA should clarify that Delhi has never sought his intercession. https://t.co/DxRpNu6vw2
— Shashi Tharoor (@ShashiTharoor) July 22, 2019
Both India and Pakistan have claimed ownership of the region of Jammu and Kashmir since the partition of India in 1947 by the British empire. Three wars have been fought over it since then, and the region remains a flashpoint of conflict for the perpetually suspicious sides.
The president’s actions this morning present us with two situations, both of them deeply disturbing to consider.
The first, rather unlikely possibility is that the Indian government did ask the Trump administration for help on this highly sensitive issue and Trump blurted it out for the whole world to hear because he wanted to make himself seem important. In the process of doing so, he humiliated an international partner and made it clear that he can’t be trusted with any classified information.
The second is that the president simply made it up because he wanted to seem important and to tout his ersatz reputation as a negotiator and dealmaker. In doing so, he placed an international partner in a very uncomfortable position and made it clear that not only he can’t be trusted to tell the truth about anything, he’s willing to concoct flagrant lies with enormous geopolitical implications for something as petty as massaging his own ego.
Neither of those possibilities bodes very well for the United States and for international peace in general.