United States President Donald Trump, while voicing alarm at a “very dangerous” standoff between India and Pakistan, indicated that the US and others are trying to defuse tensions between South Asia’s two nuclear-armed states.
"Right now between Pakistan and India, there is a very, very bad situation. A very dangerous situation,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office on Friday afternoon.
“We would like to see it [hostilities] stop. A lot of people were just killed. We want to see it just stop. We are very much involved in that [process]," he added.
At least 40 Indian soldiers were killed in occupied Kashmir's Pulwama district on Feb 14 when a suicide bomber drove an explosive-laden car into their convoy. According to media reports, Jaish-e-Muhammad claimed responsibility for the attack but New Delhi immediately blamed Islamabad and threatened a retaliatory attack. It also announced that it would launch a diplomatic offensive to isolate Pakistan in the international community. Furthermore, India scrapped the Most Favoured Nation status granted to Pakistan and imposed a 200 per cent customs duty on its goods.
In response to India's allegations, Prime Minister Imran Khan promised to conduct an investigation if New Delhi provided “actionable evidence” but also warned that Pakistan will "retaliate" if attacked. On Friday, the Pakistan army also warned India to avoid "any misadventure", as it could have dangerous consequences.
The exchange alarmed world capitals, who — as President Trump hinted in his news briefing on Friday — immediately got in touch with both New Delhi and Islamabad to defuse the situation.
“We're talking and a lot of people are talking [...] but it is a very, very delicate balance going on. Right now, there is (sic) a lot of problems between India and Pakistan because of what just happened," Trump said.
Trump assured India that the US understood its feelings. "India is looking at something very strong. India just lost almost 50 people in the attack. I can understand that too," he said, adding that his administration was talking to "authorities in both countries". He, however, did not specify what measures the US and other nations had so far taken to avoid further escalation between the neighbouring countries.
On Thursday, the United Nations Security Council urged all states to “cooperate actively” with New Delhi for bringing to justice all those who were responsible for last week’s attack.
The same day, Pakistan’s National Security Committee decided to proscribe the Jamaatud Dawa and its charity wing, Falah-i-Insaniyat Foundation, as part of measures to tighten the noose around extremist and militant groups in the country.
India rejects third-party negotiations in its disputes with Pakistan, saying that it prefers bilateral talks. But so far, New Delhi has refused to hold direct talks insisting that it wants Islamabad to tackle with militancy. India's stance creates a difficult situation for mediators who cannot publicly declare their efforts for improving ties between the two neighbours, lest it annoys India.
President Trump, in response to a question during Friday's news briefing, pointed out that the US had last year suspended military aid to Pakistan "because they weren't helping us in the way that they should have".
“I stopped paying Pakistan the $1.3 billion that we used to pay them. In the meantime, we may set up some meetings with Pakistan,” he said, but did not explain the nature, level or timings of those meetings.
He, however, added that ties between the two countries had improved.
"We have developed a much better relationship with Pakistan [in a] short period of time than we had [before]," Trump said. Bilateral ties between Washington and Islamabad have grown warmer since Pakistan agreed to broker peace talks between the Afghan Taliban and the US. The US is looking to achieve a lasting solution to Afghanistan's crisis before withdrawing its troops from Afghan soil.