Trump Offer Prompted Modi Govt’s 5 Aug Move in Kashmir: US Report

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US President Trump and Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan hold a meeting in New York, Sep 2019. (File)

New Delhi: US President Donald Trump’s “seemingly warm” welcome to Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan on his July 2019 visit and his subsequent offer to mediate on Kashmir might have triggered the Modi government’s 5 August 2019 decision to further integrate the volatile region in the country.

“Trump’s Kashmir mediation claims were especially jarring for many Indian observers, some of whom began questioning the wisdom of Modi’s confidence in the United States as a partner,” said the report prepared by a research agency attached with the US Congress.

The Congressional Research Service (CRS) noted that on July 22, 2019, while taking questions from the press alongside Prime Minister Imran Khan in the White House, President Trump claimed that Indian Prime Minister Modi had earlier in the month asked him to play a mediator’s role in the Kashmir dispute.

Trump’s statement provoked an uproar in India’s parliament, with opposition members staging a walkout and demanding explanation, forcing the Indian government to assure the opposition that Modi never made such an offer.

“The episode may have contributed to India’s August moves,” the 24-page report added.

The CRS is tasked with providing non-partisan analysis to US Congress members on matters that may come up before the American parliament. CRS reports are not considered to be views of the US Congress.

“President Trump’s apparent bonhomie with Pakistan’s prime minister and offer to mediate on Kashmir in July was taken by some as a new and potentially unwise strategic shift,” the report said.

The report also stated that, contrary to the Modi government’s claims about J&K’s poor economic standing, its economic situation was better than other Indian states when it was stripped of its special status and split into two union territories.

Another factor cited for Delhi’s 5 August decision was to “shift national conversation” from “negative economic news” — increasing criticism of the government on economic grounds led “some analysts to suspect that Modi and his lieutenants were eager to play to the BJP’s Hindu nationalist base and shift the national conversation”.

Although President Trump never withdrew his mediation offer, the strong Indian reaction forced the US State Department to post a clarification on the social media, stating that Washington still saw Kashmir as that “a bilateral issue for both parties to discuss” and the Trump Administration “stands ready to assist.”

A release from Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Repr­e­­s­e­ntative Eliot Engel reiterated his support for “the longstanding US position” on Kashmir, affirmed that the pace and scope of India-Pakistan dialogue is a bilateral determination, and called on Pakistan to facilitate such dialogue. In its second report on Kashmir in less than six months, CRS also noted that many in India disagree with the Modi’s government’s “blanket characterisations of the Kashmir conflict as an externally fomented terrorist.”

They argue that such characterisations “obscure the legitimate grievances of the indigenous Muslim-majority populace,” the report added.

CRS noted that critics of the Modi government believed it was working on a “Hindu nationalist agenda” to change the status of the occupied valley.

The critics argued that “its policy agenda entails bringing the patriotism of Indian Muslims into question and portraying Pakistan as a relentless threat that manipulates willing Kash­miri separatists, and so is responsible for violence in Kashmir,” the report added.

CRS, an independent research wing of Congress, prepares periodic reports for US lawmakers so that they can take informed decisions on major international issues. Currently, two resolutions are pending in the House of Representatives that question India’s Aug 5 decision on Kashmir. One of the resolutions was sponsored by Indian-American Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal.

The CRS report pointed out that supporters of New Delhi’s Hindu nationalist agenda oppose a negotiated settlement of the Kashmir dispute.

In their view, “talking to Pakistan cannot resolve the situation, nor can negotiations with Kashmiri separatist groups and parties, which are seen to represent Pakistan’s interests rather than those of the Kashmiri people,” the report added.

Quoting independent observers, CRS reported that blanket characterisations of the Kashmir conflict as an externally fomented terrorist effort endorses a “harsh counterinsurgency strategy that … has only further alienated successive generations in the Valley.”

Those who reject the Modi’s government’s narrative, argue that “Kash­mir’s turmoil is, at its roots, a clash between the Indian government and the Kashmiri people, leading some to decry New Delhi’s claims that Pakistan perpetuates the conflict,” the report added.

CRS reported that pro-independence political parties on both sides of the Line of Control were given little room to operate, and because of this many Kashmiris had become deeply alienated.

The report said that Pakistan called for a UNSC session and, with China’s support, the Council met on Aug 16 to discuss Kashmir for the first time in more than five decades.

CRS noted that “India’s self-image as a regional leader in no need of assistance” prevents it from accepting third-party mediation on Kashmir.

The report sought to highlight the fact that the India-US relationship had “grown stronger in the last decade”, while Washington’s equation with Islamabad remained “clouded by mistrust”.

“The administration views India as a key ‘anchor’ of its ‘free and open Indo-Pacific’ strategy, which some argue is aimed at China. Yet any US impulse to ‘tilt’ toward India is to some extent offset by Islamabad’s current, and by most accounts vital, role in facilitating Afghan reconciliation negotiations,” the report added, quoting analyses and media reports.

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