American President Donald Trump has expressed himself on Kashmir on two separate occasions recently. The first was during Pakistan PM Imran Khan's recent visit to the US when he met the President, and the second in a later phone conversation. The effort was to get the US to intervene.
Monday night was different in that this time Mr Trump and Prime Minister Narendra Modi had a phone conversation. News reports aren't clear how this telephonic contact came about — whether we requested it, or they.
Evidently, both sides appeared keen to discuss the regional political dynamics — Kashmir as well as Afghanistan, since in respect of the latter the Americans are thought to have all but clinched an agreement with the Taliban and will draw down their forces. India and the US should of course discuss the Afghan situation. We have a major stake in that country. These may be adversely impacted with the Taliban's return. India is naturally in touch with some leading Afghan players too, most notably former President Hamid Karzai, besides the current Afghan government itself.
But the worrying aspect is that Pakistan has sought to draw a link between Kashmir and Afghanistan. Its declared reasoning is that New Delhi’s decision to end the special status of J&K has hurt Pakistan's interests and caused renewed tension in India-Pakistan relations. Consequently, Islamabad is likely to move some of its forces to its border with India, away from Afghanistan and that might negatively impact the US-Taliban peace talks.
We hope that in his 30-minute phone conversation with President Trump, Mr Modi was critical of Pakistan seeking to make the linkage, and saw it fit to point out that no action of India’s had been warlike and that the Pakistan PM was drumming up an artificial scare in an effort to persuade Washington to intervene.
In this connection, ideally the Indian leader should have advised the US not to get involved in the Kashmir question, which is strictly a bilateral matter between New Delhi and Islamabad, a position the US recognises and has publicly acknowledged, although Mr Trump has also asked India to “reduce tension” with Pakistan after the recent Indian action in respect of Kashmir.
These legitimate concerns of India’s were not reflected in the statement New Delhi put out on the Modi-Trump phone talk. Nor did the US side refer to these. We should be aware that the more frequently India gives the US or any country latitude to speak about Kashmir as though it were an India-Pakistan “dispute” — and that is exactly what Islamabad wants — the more these countries could be drawn into the picture.
Mr Modi was quite right to inform President Trump of the belligerent language of Pakistan’s leadership that could promote “anti-India violence”. Indeed, Islamabad’s effort might be to have this extended to the Taliban, and we would do well to check that.