Most times President Donald Trump opens his mouth, he either puts his foot in it or ends up creating enough mirth for others to overcome the boredom of a dreary day at work (‘COVFEFE’). Having seen his record over the past 30 months, India should ideally view his comments on Kashmir and the offer for mediation as one of the above.
Yet, there has been quite the ‘covfefe’ around the Indian political firmament, with the opposition parties perceiving his offer of mediation as a tectonic shift in the country's stand over conflict resolution with Pakistan, till now governed by the Shimla Agreement and the Lahore Declaration that came into force in 1972 and 1999 respectively.
President Trump says PM Modi asked him to mediate between India & Pakistan on Kashmir!— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) July 23, 2019
If true, PM Modi has betrayed India’s interests & 1972 Shimla Agreement.
A weak Foreign Ministry denial won’t do. PM must tell the nation what transpired in the meeting between him & @POTUS
These reactions have toed the party line with the Congress wanting Prime Minister Narendra Modi to come clean, the National Conference describing it as just another foot-in-the-mouth incident at the White House and the PDP already assuming that Trump’s offer marks a huge policy shift and should be taken forward.
The government, on its part, issued a categorical denial that Modi had even spoken about Kashmir to Trump, let alone asking him to act as a mediator or arbitrator on Kashmir as the US President claimed during his media interaction at the Oval Office in the presence of Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan.
Personally I think @realDonaldTrump is talking out of his hat when he says @PMOIndia asked for US involvement in solving the Kashmir issue but I’d like to see @MEAIndia call Trump out on his claim. https://t.co/JRlH4mehrp— Omar Abdullah (@OmarAbdullah) July 22, 2019
Despite GOI refuting idea of third party mediation on J&K, the disclosure made by Trump marks a huge policy shift. Even though USA doesn’t hold a great record in resolving protracted conflicts, hope both countries seize this opportunity to forge peace through dialogue.— Mehbooba Mufti (@MehboobaMufti) July 23, 2019
Of course, there is also Shashi Tharoor from the Congress who believes that Trump was talking through his hat and was probably not at the receiving end of a proper briefing over how India perceives any international mediation on the Kashmir issue. Former Finance Minister Arun Jaitley captured the essence of these variations in his tweet claiming that it was some sort of a “separatist psyche” that was unacceptable to “new India”.
Statements of mainstream parties of Kashmir create a separatist psyche & not acceptable to New India. pic.twitter.com/YjDUwOFPHD— Arun Jaitley (@arunjaitley) April 1, 2019
Even as our politicians are playing politics with the statement, some attempting to corner Prime Minister Modi and others trying to reclaim their relevance in the game, the fact that appears to have been ignored seems to be the fact that Pakistan has managed to bring Kashmir back on the world stage.
Over the past seven decades, there have been innumerable instances where the United Nations stepped up to mediate between the two countries that have fought three full scale wars and a proxy war in Kargil since Independence. The first of these was at India’s behest in 1947 when the UN Security Council passed resolution 39 (in 1948) and established the United Nations Commission for India and Pakistan (UNCIP) to mediate.
A year later, the McNaughton proposals were framed by this body under which it was proposed that India and Pakistan would withdraw its forces from the frontier and the administration of the Northern Areas would remain with the local authorities under UN supervision. Pakistan accepted these suggestions while India rejected them initially before acceding to it in 1950 after the US suggested holding a plebiscite to resolve the matter.
These mediation efforts only ensured that there was a ceasefire line that would be supervised by UN observers through the formation of a UN Military Observers Group that took over the objective from the UNCIP. Its role was to observe and report any ceasefire violations.
However, post the 1971 conflict, India and Pakistan signed the Shimla accord that clearly defines that only bilateral negotiations would be used to settle differences between the two countries– which is what the opposition leaders are now pointing out and seeking clarification on from the BJP government.
Though there are divergent views coming from the Trump administration over the statement from POTUS, the fact remains that this is a googly that India would’ve rather not faced, given the concerted diplomatic efforts made by New Delhi to corner a larger role on the world stage through engagements with the permanent members of the UN Security Council.
We heard remarks by President Donald Trump in a meeting with Pak PM that he is ready to mediate if requested by India & Pakistan on Kashmir Issue. I would categorically assure the house that no such request has been made by PM Modi to US President: EAM Shri @DrSJaishankar in RS. pic.twitter.com/IwqXL3iAtL— BJP (@BJP4India) July 23, 2019
It is important that New Delhi call Trump’s bluff; else the perception that it was Prime Minister Modi who was caught on the wrong foot could get stronger. A categorical statement from Modi clarifying India’s position is the simplest way to consign this controversy to history at the earliest.