KARACHI / WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump, who promised last month to mediate between India and Pakistan over the Kashmir issue, spoke to Indian and Pakistani prime ministers on Monday in a bid to defuse rising tensions between the two nuclear-armed neighbours.

Since Aug 5, when India unilaterally cancelled the constitutionally guaranteed autonomy of the disputed Kashmir region, several world leaders have emphasised the need for reducing tensions between India and Pakistan. President Trump, however, went beyond making public gestures and spoke directly to the leaders of the two neighbouring nations.

Later in the evening, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi told a news briefing in Islamabad that President Trump made a call to Prime Minister Imran Khan after his talk with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on prevailing situation in India-held Kashmir.

He said the US leader expressed his concern over the rising tensions in the region.

He said in response to the prime minister’s phone call on Aug 16, President Trump contacted PM Modi and expressed his desire to help defuse the situation.

US leader speaks to Modi, Imran on Kashmir situation

Mr Trump had a conversation with PM Khan on Friday and a White House statement issued after the call said the US president pushed for talks between New Delhi and Islamabad on the Kashmir issue.

Mr Qureshi said that the prime minister viewed President Trump’s “contacts and engagements” as a “constructive” engagement.

“The PM thanked President Trump for taking interest in the situation and making efforts for an amicable solution of the crisis,” he said, adding: “We hope President Trump and the United States will play their role in resolving this current crisis and in [finding out] a solution to this dispute.”

The PM told President Trump that India’s actions in the held Valley were in violation of international law as well as the UN resolutions.

He said the prime minister again presented Pakistan’s stance and said that the BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party] government’s unilateral action had endangered the region and such steps by New Delhi had an aim to alter the special status of held Kashmir and also to change the demography of the disputed territory and convert the majority population of the Valley into a minority.

“We are foreseeing a humanitarian crisis in the making. The prime minister informed the US president that the curfew in India-held Kashmir has entered third week and that the curfew in the region should be lifted and restrictions ended.”

He said that both the leaders spoke at around 10pm PST after the meeting of the National Security Committee.

Earlier, the White House said that President Trump spoke to Prime Minister Modi to discuss regional developments and the US-India strategic partnership.

“The president conveyed the importance of reducing tensions between India and Pakistan and maintaining peace in the region,” White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said in a statement.

“The two leaders further discussed how they will continue to strengthen United States-India economic ties through increased trade, and they look forward to meeting again soon.”

In New Delhi, the Ministry of External Affairs also issued a statement on the Trump-Modi conversation, saying: “In the context of the regional situation, the prime minister stated that extreme rhetoric and incitement to anti-India violence by certain leaders in the region was not conducive to peace.”

The conversation is the first direct communication between the two leaders since India deprived the people of held Kashmir of their constitutional autonomy.

Mr Modi “highlighted the importance of creating an environment free from terror and violence and eschewing cross-border terrorism without exception,” said the Indian statement, summing up their prime minister’s 30-minute conversation with Mr Trump.

On July 22, Mr Trump offered to play a mediatory role to resolve the 70-year-old dispute after a White House meeting with Prime Minister Khan. Mr Khan, who also addressed a joint news briefing with Mr Trump, immediately accepted the offer, saying that over a billion people would pray for the US leader if he helped resolve this issue.

India, however, rejected the offer, saying it wanted no external assistance for talks with Pakistan on Kashmir or any other issue.

The Indian media noted that during his meeting with Prime Minister Khan, Mr Trump claimed that Mr Modi had urged him to mediate on Kashmir. Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar later explained that no such request was made but a senior Trump aide told reporters in Washington that the US “president does not make things up”.

However, on Monday Indian media reported that Mr Modi telephoned Mr Trump, indicating the Indian PM involved the US president, although his aides had denied he ever asked Mr Trump to mediate.

Reports in the Indian media said that both leaders also discussed the Afghan scenario with Mr Modi expressing India’s “long-standing and unwavering commitment to work for a united, secure, democratic and truly independent Afghanistan”.

The Indian media noted that the conversation came days before the G7 summit in Biarritz, France, where both Mr Trump and Mr Modi are scheduled to be present.

Published in Dawn, August 20th, 2019