NEW YORK: US President Donald has made it clear that while his administration wants close business and strategic ties with India, it would not join New Delhi’s ‘aggressive’ war plans against Pakistan.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi unveiled this war plan at a public rally in Houston, Texas, on Sunday while trying to divert the world’s attention away from Indian atrocities in occupied Kashmir to his claims about terrorism.
“The time has come to fight a decisive war against terrorism and its supporters,” he said. “And I want to stress here that in this war, President Trump is standing against terrorism with his full strength.”
President Trump, who also attended this rally, also emphasised the need to fight terrorism in his speech but at a joint news conference with Prime Minister Imran Khan on Monday he distanced himself from Mr Modi’s remarks, saying that he was referring to Iran, not Pakistan.
“I heard a very aggressive statement yesterday from India, from the prime minister, and I will say it was very well received within the room … a big room; there were 59,000 people,” he said.
“I hope that they’re going to be able to come together — India and Pakistan — and do something that’s really smart and good for both.”
When reminded that he had shared the stage with Mr Modi in Houston and also spoke about the need to fight terrorism, Mr Trump said: “I really have been pointing much more to Iran.”
For India and Pakistan, he added, there’re options other than a war. “I’m sure there could be — there’s always a solution. And I really believe there’s a solution for that.”
The US president said when he went to the rally, he “didn’t know I was going to hear that statement” and urged New Delhi to treat all well and be humane to the people of Kashmir.
“I’d like to see everything work out. I want it to be humane. I want everybody to be treated well. You have two big countries, and they’re warring countries and they’ve been fighting,” he said.
Mr Trump also ignored New Delhi’s repeated rejection of his offers over the past few weeks to mediate between India and Pakistan.
“I think I’d be an extremely good arbitrator. I’ve done it before, believe it or not, and I’ve never failed as an arbitrator. I’ve been asked to arbitrate disputes — pretty big ones — and I’ve done it in a good, successful fashion,” he said. “If I can be of help, let me know.”
Mr Trump also tried to dispel the impression that since Washington was seeking greater business ties with India, there’s little scope for US-Pakistan trade to grow.
“I was really shocked when I saw the original numbers from last year and the year before, and for many years, that the trade with Pakistan isn’t much greater. But it could be many times the number,” he said. “So, we’re going to double, triple, quadruple the trade. It will be very easy to do. They make great products, and so do we.”
When Prime Minister Khan referred to various disputes in South Asia, Mr Trump remarked, “He lives in a very friendly neighbourhood.”
The US president also noted that Pakistani journalists were doing a good job of promoting their country’s position on the Kashmir dispute.
“This is the kind of reporter I like. I like this reporter. Are you a member of this team?” Mr Trump said to one of a dozen Pakistani journalists who put many questions to him on Kashmir.
The reporter reminded him that he was an independent journalist and not a member of the prime minister’s team, but most Pakistanis had similar views on Kashmir.
“Where do you find reporters like this? These guys are fantastic,” Mr Trump said again, when another journalist asked a question about Kashmir.
Responding to a question about US-Pakistan relations, Mr Trump said previous American presidents “have treated Pakistan very badly. The people in my position have treated Pakistan very badly. I think that — I wouldn’t say Pakistan has treated us too well either, but maybe there was a reason. And, in fact, I think there was a reason for it”.
When reminded that soon after assuming power, he had said he did not trust Pakistan, the US leader said: “I trust Pakistan. But people before me didn’t, but they didn’t know what they were doing.”
Turning towards Prime Minister Khan, he said: “I trust this gentleman right here. And I do trust Pakistan. I have a lot of Pakistani friends living in New York. They’re smart. Great negotiators, by the way, in case you had any questions. They’re among the toughest negotiators in the world.”
Returning to the India-Pakistan dispute on Kashmir, he said: “It’s all going to work out. But if I can help, I’d like to help. But I don’t think you’ve ever had a president that felt the way I do, in a positive way, about Pakistan.”
Asked if he was happy with the progress that Pakistan has made countering terrorism, he said: “I’ve heard they’ve made great progress. And under this leader (Imran Khan) I think he wants to make great progress because there’s no solution the other way. The other way is only going to lead to death and chaos and poverty. It’s all it’s going to lead to. I mean, he understands it. Your Prime Minister understands it.”
Published in Dawn, September 25th, 2019