WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump will urge India and Pakistan to maintain peace and stability along the Line of Control (LoC) in Kashmir and refrain from actions or statements that could increase tensions in the region, says a senior administration official.
President Trump arrives in India on Monday for a two-day visit that both sides hope will lead to a closer strategic partnership and commercial ties between the two nations.
On Friday afternoon, a senior Trump administration official briefed the media on the president’s visit, outlining the issues and projects the president plans to discuss with Indian leaders during the visit.
“What you’ll hear from the president is very much encouraging a reduction in tensions between India and Pakistan, encouraging the two countries to engage in bilateral dialogue with each other to resolve their differences,” said the official when asked if the US leader would once again offer to mediate on the issue of Kashmir.
“We continue to believe a core foundation of any successful dialogue between the two is based on continued momentum in Pakistan’s efforts to crack down on terrorists and extremists on its territory. So, we continue to look for that,” the official added.
US official says issue of religious freedom will figure prominently during president’s visit to India
“But I think the president will urge both countries to seek to maintain peace and stability along the Line of Control and refrain from actions or statements that could increase tensions in the region.”
Asked if President Trump would ask for Indian troops to maintain peace in Afghanistan after American troops leave the war-ravaged country once a peace deal with the Taliban was implemented, the US official said: “We would just encourage India, as we are all regional countries, to do whatever it can to support this peace process so that it can be successful and we can potentially end 19 years of military, diplomatic, economic engagement.”
The official also referred to US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo’s statement on Friday, in which he said the US had reached an understanding with the Taliban to reduce violence in Afghanistan. “So, we see this as a major step forward, and we’re focused on that,” he said.
Hoping that the agreement the US and Taliban plan to sign on Feb 29 would end America’s military engagement in Afghanistan, the official said the US would continue its diplomatic and economic engagement with that country after the troop withdrawal as well.
“But we certainly would look to India to support this peace process — an important country in the region, important to the overall stability of the region. So, I think if the issue comes up, that is what would be the request from the president,” the official said.
The statement reflects the Trump administration’s awareness of Pakistan’s sensitivities on the presence of Indian troops in Afghanistan. The statement also makes several key points that do not conform to India’s official positions and statements on Kashmir.
While as a mark of deference to the official Indian position that it does not want any third-party mediation on Kashmir, the US official avoided using the so-called “K word”. But his reference to the situation on the LoC is linked directly to the India-Pakistan conflict on Kashmir.
Instead of blaming Pakistan for the tensions, as New Delhi does, the official made it obvious that Washington believes both countries were responsible for “maintain(ing) peace and stability along the LoC” and both should “refrain from actions or statements that could increase tensions in the region”.
This was an obvious reference to statements from India, particularly by its senior military officials, who do not just blame Pakistan for stirring troubles in occupied Kashmir but also threaten to take military action to settle the dispute.
The senior administration official said that President Trump would also talk about the two countries’ shared traditions of democracy and religious freedom when he would meet Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“He will raise these issues, particularly the religious freedom issue, which is extremely important to this administration,” the official said.
“And I think that the president will talk about these issues in his meetings with Prime Minister Modi and note that the world is looking to India to continue to uphold its democratic traditions, respect for religious minorities,” the official said.
Mr Modi’s ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party denies any bias against the country’s 180 million Muslims. Despite the denials, other nations, including Turkey and Malaysia, have criticised India’s decision to illegally merge Kashmir with the union and its new citizenship laws that discriminate against Muslims.
Reporting on the same briefing in the US, Indian newspaper The Hindu said that during his visit President Trump is expected to discuss the Kashmir dispute and raise his concerns around India’s Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizens (NRC) with Prime Minister Modi.
The paper said the US official’s comments are significant at a time when there is growing concern in Washington over India’s adherence to democratic traditions following the parliament’s passage of the CAA and the establishment of the NRC in Assam.
Our correspondent in New Delhi also contributed to this report
Published in Dawn, February 23rd, 2020