NEW DELHI: US President Donald Trump expressed his willingness to mediate in the Kashmir row between India and Pakistan during a solo special press conference in New Delhi on Tuesday evening, despite going cold on the idea in the past.
India and Pakistan both lay claim to Kashmir, which they administer in part but claim in full, and the territory lies at the heart of decades of hostility between them. The most recent flashpoint occurred last August, when India revoked the special status of its portion and brought it under direct rule.
Trump has previously said he would mediate in the dispute, but last year walked back on his offer because the two countries could discuss it among themselves and “sort it (Kashmir) out mutually.”
But, in a change of tune during his first official visit to India, he said he would do whatever he could and cited his good relationship with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“My relationships with both the gentlemen are good. There have been difficulties in Pakistan and we are seeing what we can do about it. Anything I can do to mediate and I can do to help, I will do. They are working on Kashmir. Kashmir has been a thorn in lots of people’s eyes for a long time,” Trump said.
He concluded his intense two-day trip with a major defense deal with India, referring to US-India relations as “special” and “truly stronger than ever before.”
“We expanded our defense cooperation with India which is to purchase more than $3 billion advance military equipment including Apache and MH16 Romeo helicopters, the finest in the world,” he said during a joint press conference with Modi earlier on Tuesday. Modi said the bilateral ties were the “most important partnership of the 21st century.”
Trump said they also discussed the Afghan peace process at length.
“India would like the deal to happen in Afghanistan. Modi was keen that the deal should happen,” Trump added, referring to the peace agreement the US and the Taliban are expected to sign this Saturday.
But, according to New Delhi-based foreign affairs analyst Dr. Zorawar Daulet Singh, there is little for India to do in that process.
“I don’t see India playing any major role in Afghanistan or the US expecting India to do anything substantive,” he told Arab News. “Pakistan is their key ally in this conflict. India is trying to show how valuable it can be for the US — as an export market for trade and military equipment — as well as upholding US strategic interests in Asia.”
Trump offered no comment on the violence in India that accompanied his visit, with 10 people dying since Monday in clashes in the northeastern part of the capital.
Media reports said the violence broke out when radical Hindu groups attacked demonstrators protesting India’s new citizenship laws.
Protests have been ongoing in several parts of the country since the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) was passed last December. Under the law, many people fear they would be rendered stateless, especially members of the Muslim community.
“I don’t want to discuss it. I want to leave it to India and hopefully they are going to make the right decision. It’s really up to India,” Trump said.
A White House statement shared by the US Embassy in New Delhi ahead of Trump's arrival said that the president would raise the “religious freedom issue” in the bilateral meeting between the two heads of state.
The world was looking to India to continue to uphold its democratic traditions and respect for religious minorities, the statement added.
“It’s really sad that the US president is ignoring the plight of Indian Muslims who are facing a state-sponsored attack in the national capital,” Delhi-based social activist Nadim Khan told Arab News. “The members of the ruling party, in cahoots with the police, are targeting Muslims for their protest against the CAA.”