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PRIME Minister Imran Khan and US President Donald Trump in conversation during a meeting at the Oval Office of the White House on Monday.—AFP
PRIME Minister Imran Khan and US President Donald Trump in conversation during a meeting at the Oval Office of the White House on Monday.—AFP

• Pakistan welcomes offer, India denies Modi asked US president to arbitrate
• Imran says US, Taliban closest to Afghan peace deal
• Hints at recovery of two American hostages

WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump on Monday expressed his willingness to mediate between India and Pakistan to resolve the 70-year-old Kashmir dispute if both the neighbouring countries asked him for it.

While addressing a joint news conference with the US president at the White House Oval Office on Monday, Prime Minister Imran Khan welcomed the offer and said the entire Subcontinent would pray for him if he helped resolve the dispute.

“If I can help, I would love to be a mediator. If I can do anything to help, let me know,” said Mr Trump when a Pakistani journalist asked him if he would like to mediate between India and Pakistan on Kashmir.

“I was with Prime Minister Modi two weeks ago and we talked about this subject (Kashmir). And he actually said would you like to be a mediator or arbitrator? I said, where? (Modi said) Kashmir,” Mr Trump explained.

“Because this has been going on for many, many years. I am surprised that how long. It has been going on [for long],” he said, as PM Khan reminded him that the dispute has been going on for 70 years.

“And I think they (Indians) would like to see it resolved. I think you (PM Khan) would like to see it resolved. And if I can help, I would love to be a mediator,” said President Trump while reiterating his offer to mediate.

“It should be. I mean it’s impossible …… we have two incredible countries that are very, very smart with very smart leadership, can’t solve a problem like that. But if you would want me to mediate or arbitrate, I would be willing to do that,” Mr Trump said.

The prime minister welcomed his remarks, saying: “Right now, you would have the prayers of over a billion people if you can mediate (on Kashmir).” Mr Trump added: “So all those issues should be resolved. So, he (Modi) has asked me the same thing. So maybe we’ll speak to him. Or I’ll speak to him and we’ll see if we can do something.”

However, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs immediately issued a statement denying the US president’s claim that PM Narendara Modi had requested him to mediate on the Kashmir dispute. “We have seen @POTUS’s remarks to the press that he is ready to mediate, if requested by India & Pakistan, on Kashmir issue. No such request has been made by PM @narendramodi to US President. It has been India’s consistent position 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,” said Raveesh Kumar, the official spokesperson.

Earlier, in his opening statement, President Trump said Pakistan was going to “help us out to extricate ourselves” from Afghanistan where the US was acting like a policeman, instead of fighting a war. “If we wanted to fight a war in Afghanistan and win it, I could win that war within a week. I just don’t want to kill 10 million people,” he said.

“I have plans on Afghanistan where if I wanted to win that war, Afghanistan would be wiped off the face of the earth. It would be over in, literally, 10 days. I don’t want to go that route. Nor do we want to be policemen ... We’ve been there for 19 years in Afghanistan. It’s ridiculous,” said Mr Trump.

Recalling Pakistan actions as a frontline state against Russian interference in Afghanistan and again in the post-9/11 situation, PM Khan said: “There is no military solution in Afghanistan. If you go all out military, millions and millions of people will die. There is only one solution and I feel it’s the closest that we have been to a peace deal and we hope that in coming days we will be able to urge the Taliban to speak to the Afghan and reach a political settlement.”

President Trump said: “We have made a lot of progress over the last couple of weeks and Pakistan has helped us with that progress,” he claimed.

PM Khan told the US president that he could soon expect good news on (recovery of) two (American) hostages.

Aid to Pakistan

In reply to a question about US assistance to Pakistan, President Trump said: “We paid $1.3 billion to Pakistan in aid for many years. But Pakistan wasn’t doing anything for us. They were subversive. I ended that a year and a half ago. To be honest, I think we have a better relationship with Pakistan right now than when we were paying that money. That money can come back” depending on the kind of understanding reached between the two leaders. But he said that establishing close business ties between the two countries was more important than restoring assistance.

Troops’ withdrawal

Asked about time frame on withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, Mr Trump said: “We have already withdrawn quite a few. We’re doing it very slowly, very safely. And we’re working with Pakistan and we’re negotiating with the Taliban. And we’re doing very well in that regard.” The US, he said, was working with Pakistan on finding a solution to the Afghan conflict but said he did not know if all the US troops would be out of Afghanistan by the general elections next year.

In reply to a question, President Trump joked that while he had yet to be invited by PM Imran, he would “love to” visit one day.

Asked if he would request Mr Khan for release of Dr Shakil Afridi, the US president did not seem to know who Afridi was. When told about his role in OBL compound operation, he said he would also discuss his release with Mr Khan.

While the two leaders spoke to the media, the top military leadership, including Chief of the Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa and Inter-Services Intelligence director general Lt Gen Faiz Hameed arrived, at the White House for delegation-level talks. Later in the afternoon, the military delegation went to the Pentagon for another set of meetings.

The prime minister, while responding to a question about the inclusion of military leaders in his team, said it was good that he brought them along as security issues would also be discussed during this visit.

Published in Dawn, July 23rd, 2019