Wednesday, July 24, 2019 10:42:05 PM
Agencies, Washington :
President Trump offered to help mediate the long-running Kashmir conflict in a White House meeting with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, briefly raising the prospect of a substantial shift in the U.S. role in the conflict before India swiftly rejected it.
In comments to reporters in the Oval Office on Monday, Mr. Khan said he was hoping that the president would be able to "bring the two countries together," saying the U.S. could play the "most important role." Mr. Trump chimed in that he would love to be a mediator, and said Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had asked him to do so.
Less than an hour after the meeting ended, India rejected the U.S. offer to mediate and disputed Mr. Trump's description of the conversation with Mr. Modi.
The meeting with Mr. Khan came as the Trump administration seeks Pakistan's help in the U.S. war in Afghanistan, hoping to persuade Islamabad to pressure the Afghan Taliban to agree to a cease-fire and hold direct talks with the Afghan government. Both leaders struck a positive tone on progress in those efforts.
Mr. Trump's rejected offer to intervene in the Kashmir conflict is the latest example of the president's ongoing struggle with foreign policy, where he has encountered setbacks in trade talks with China, Russian arms purchases by Turkey and efforts to persuade North Korea to denuclearize. In each situation, Mr. Trump has touted his personal relationships but yielded few tangible results for the U.S.
In regards to Kashmir, Mr. Trump said that Mr. Modi asked him in a chat two weeks ago, "Would you like to be a mediator?" Mr. Trump said he responded: "Where?"
Raveesh Kumar, spokesman for India's Ministry of External Affairs, said Mr. Modi had made "no such request."
The White House declined to comment on India's denial of Mr. Trump's characterization of events, but a senior administration official said late Monday: "As the president made clear, the United States stands ready to assist if requested by both India and Pakistan."
Mr. Trump said he was surprised to learn how long the conflict had lasted. Since the establishment of Pakistan more than 70 years ago, both India and Pakistan have laid claim to the Kashmir region. Each seized part of Kashmir, administering those portions ever since, with tensions occasionally flaring between the nuclear-armed powers.
India has long refused any outside mediation regarding Kashmir, saying it is a bilateral issue with Pakistan. New Delhi says that talks can only be held with Pakistan, and only after Pakistan has stopped sponsoring what it sees as terrorism in Kashmir.
"It has been India's consistent position that all outstanding issues with Pakistan are discussed only bilaterally," Mr. Kumar said in a tweet. "Any engagement with Pakistan would require an end to cross border terrorism."
The two countries have had periods of relative peace and talks ending in flare-ups in violence, usually in Kashmir. Over the years, the U.S., the United Nations and others have tried to nudge the two rivals to talk. Only Pakistan, facing a much bigger and more powerful neighbor, wants outside mediation.
This year, Mr. Khan publicly expressed concern that recent clashes between Pakistan and India would spiral into war. Pakistani and Indian jet fighters clashed in the skies above their disputed border, with each side claiming to have shot down at least one warplane and Pakistan capturing-and later releasing-an Indian pilot.
The U.S. and other world powers urged restraint at the time, and Pakistan's ambassador to the U.S., Asad Khan, called on the U.S. to step up its diplomatic efforts to avert a war.
While India opposes international mediation over Kashmir, Mr. Khan likely pressed Mr. Trump to persuade India to open bilateral peace talks with Pakistan over the disputed territory in exchange for cooperating on trying to end the Afghan war, experts said.
At the outset of his meeting with Mr. Trump, Mr. Khan sounded an optimistic note on Afghan peace talks, saying "this is the closest we've been" to a deal. He told reporters that Pakistan "desperately wants peace."
Mr. Trump echoed his counterpart's assessment of progress. "We've made a lot of great progress over the last couple of weeks. And Pakistan has helped us with that progress," he said
Pakistan has been pressing the Taliban to strike a peace deal, with the goal of allowing the U.S. to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan. Mr. Trump said Monday that Pakistan was helping the U.S. to extricate itself from the war.
Mr. Trump called the duration of the war in Afghanistan "ridiculous" and issued repeated threats about the U.S. military's capability to "do a number" on Afghanistan. "If we wanted to fight a war in Afghanistan and win it, I could win that war in a week," he said.
He added that in such a scenario, "Afghanistan would be wiped off the face of the earth." But, he said: "I don't want to kill 10 million people."
Mr. Trump said of the war in Afghanistan: "We've done what we were supposed to do," adding that the U.S. had acted as policemen, not soldiers.
The U.S. approached the meeting of the U.S. and Pakistan leaders with cautious optimism about its cooperation in Afghanistan, a senior administration official said on Friday. The official said the U.S. was appreciative of Pakistan's initial steps, but added: "We are reaching a critical juncture."
"Khan is saying the right things," the official said. "But what we really need to see to prove that this is something different are, you know, actual arrests and convictions, as well as evictions of those Taliban and Haqqani leaders who don't support peace." The Haqqani network is a major Taliban-aligned insurgent group in Afghanistan.
Mr. Khan's visit, the official said, is an "opportunity to incentivize Pakistan to use its full leverage and influence with the Taliban to advance the peace process in Afghanistan."
The meeting follows Mr. Trump's decision last year to hold the first sustained U.S. talks with the Taliban, an approach Pakistani officials have advocated for years. Mr. Trump is seeking to conclude a deal with the Taliban by September-an agreement that could allow the U.S. to exit Afghanistan, where it has thousands of troops, a year before Mr. Trump seeks re-election.
In August Mr. Khan was sworn in after an unexpectedly strong showing in the July 25 election. He campaigned to overturn a history of poor governance in Pakistan, a nation of 200 million people that has vacillated between civilian and military rule throughout its history, underperforming other emerging markets in Asia for decades.
The Pakistani prime minister was accompanied at the White House by his army chief, Gen. Qamar Bajwa. Pakistan's military, which controls policy toward Afghanistan and has long been accused by Washington of supporting the Taliban, has given strong backing to Mr. Khan.
Pakistan's relations with the U.S. have been strained in recent years. While the Trump administration has been pressuring Pakistan to help forge a peace deal in Afghanistan, the administration's alliance with Islamabad is being tested by the South Asian country's growing economic dependence on China.
Pakistan has supported the Taliban since the mid-1990s as the best way to keep its rival India from exercising influence in Afghanistan, a relationship that has given Islamabad more leverage than any other country over the group.
Washington for years blamed Pakistan for providing haven to the insurgency, making a defeat impossible. In an attempt to coax Pakistan's support, the Obama administration ramped up military and economic aid to $3 billion a year. But Pakistan saw it as against its interests to fight the Taliban, and ties soured. Mr. Trump's administration cut aid to $71 million in the current financial year.
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