Trump at India rally: US has a 'very good' relationship with Pakistan, hopes for reduced tension in region

Updated February 24, 2020

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Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Donald Trump at Namaste Trump event at Sardar Patel Stadium in Ahmedabad, India, on Monday. — AP
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Donald Trump at Namaste Trump event at Sardar Patel Stadium in Ahmedabad, India, on Monday. — AP
US President Donald Trump, first lady Melania Trump, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrive for a "Namaste Trump" event at Sardar Patel Stadium, on Monday in Ahmedabad, India. — AP
US President Donald Trump, first lady Melania Trump, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrive for a "Namaste Trump" event at Sardar Patel Stadium, on Monday in Ahmedabad, India. — AP

US President Donald Trump, while addressing a packed rally in Ahmedabad after his arrival in India on Monday, said the United States has "a very good relation" with Pakistan and hopes to reduce tensions in the region.

"US and India are committed to stopping terrorists and fight their ideology. For this reason, since taking office, my administration is working in a very positive way with Pakistan to crack down on terrorist organisations and militants which operate on the Pakistani border," said Trump.

"Our relationship with Pakistan is a very good one. Thanks to these efforts, we are beginning to see signs of big progress with Pakistan and we are hopeful for reduced tensions, greater stability and the future of harmony for all of the nations of South Asia," said Trump on the first day of his whirlwind 36-hour visit meant to reaffirm US-India ties.

More than 100,000 people packed into the world’s largest cricket stadium, giving Trump the biggest rally crowd of his political career, for the pinnacle of the day’s trio of presidential photo-ops.

The boisterous scene featured soldiers on camels, a mix of songs from Bollywood hits and Trump’s campaign rally playlist, including an Elton John hit that seemed to puzzle most of the crowd. Trump basked in the raucous reception that has eluded him on many foreign trips, some of which have featured massive protests and icy handshakes from world leaders.

Nearly everyone in the newly constructed stadium in Ahmedabad in western India sported a white cap with the name of the event, “Namaste, Trump” or “Welcome, Trump”, and roared for the introductions of both Trump and India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Addressing the event, Modi said history is being scripted at the Motera stadium. He recalled his visit to America with a “Howdy Modi” rally in Houston five months ago.

Read: Trump, Modi show unity at Houston rally; protesters raise rights of Kashmiris outside venue

He said Trump now is starting his journey in India in Ahmedabad with a rally named “Namaste Trump”.

Modi welcomed Trump to the “biggest democracy in the world” and led the crowd in chanting “Long live India-US friendship”.

Trump opened his speech by declaring that he traveled 8,000 miles to deliver the message that “America loves India, America respects India and America will always be faithful and loyal friends to the Indian people”.

The president called Modi a “tremendously successful leader” who has transformed the country.

He said the United States was prepared to supply India with defence equipment, ranging from drones to helicopters and missile systems. Trump said he looked forward to expanding space cooperation between the two nations, and said both sides were at the early stages of reaching an “incredible” trade agreement.

The audience cheered when Trump mentioned US strikes on "radical Islamic extremists". "Under my administration, we unleashed full power of American military on bloodthirsty killers of ISIS. Today, ISIS territorial caliphate is 100 per cent destroyed," he claimed. "Al Baghdadi is dead."

Perhaps alluding to tough negotiations over trade, Trump lightheartedly told the rally crowd: “Everybody loves him, but I will tell you this. He’s very tough.”

The two nations are closely allied, in part to act as a bulwark against the rising influence of nearby China, but trade tensions between the two countries have escalated since the Trump administration imposed tariffs on steel and aluminium from India. India responded with higher penalties on agricultural goods and restrictions on US medical devices. The US retaliated by removing India from a decades-old preferential trade program.

There was no mention by Trump of the protests enveloping India over its Citizenship Amendment Act, which provides a fast track to naturalisation for some migrants who entered the country illegally while fleeing religious persecution, but excludes Muslims. The passage has raised fears that the country is moving toward a religious citizenship test and prompted large-scale protests and a violent crackdown.

At the rally in Ahmedabad, Trump praised India’s history of religious tolerance, and “many faiths worshiping side-by-side”.

'Remarkable hospitality'

Trump said that he will remember India for its "remarkable hospitality".

"India will hold a special place in our hearts. PM Modi started out as 'tea wallah', he worked as a tea seller," said Trump.

"You [Modi] are living proof that with hard work and devotion, Indians can accomplish anything at all, anything they want. The prime minister's is a moving story of an incredible rise," he said.

"All over the planet people take great joy in watching Bollywood films, bhangra, and classic films like DDLJ and Sholay. You cheer on great cricketers like Sachin Tendulkar and Virat Kohli," he added.

Trump's visit comes at a crucial moment for Modi, a fellow populist, whose government has been marred by a steep economic downturn and unfulfilled campaign promises about job creation.

The US president will conclude his whirlwind visit to India on Tuesday with a day in the capital of New Delhi, including meetings with Modi over stalled trade talks and a gala dinner.