On Kashmir, Donald Trump is all talk: US president weaves web of words to keep India and Pakistan busy while playing keep away

FP Staff

Donald Trump has, for long, sought to portray himself as a great deal maker. The US president has, on multiple occasions, offered to 'mediate' between India and Pakistan on Kashmir, perhaps the thorniest dispute in the world outside Palestine.

The latest such offer came Tuesday, when Trump, holding a press conference in Delhi, describing Kashmir as a "big problem" and a "thorn", said:  "We talked a lot about Pakistan. I have a very good relationship with Prime Minister Khan. We talked about it today at length with Prime Minister Modi. No question it is a problem. It is a problem, they are working on it," Trump said.

He further added: "We just hope, and I just said I'll do whatever I have to do, if I can do that because my relationship with both gentlemen is so good. But there has been difficulty in Pakistan. We are seeing what we can do about it. Anything I can do to mediate, anything I can do to help I would do."

On previous occasions, Trump's Kashmir comments set the cat among the pigeons. But this time, there was nary a peep from the establishment, and not just because of Trump's weak tea denial that he was "not offering to mediate" when reminded that India rejected his previous offers. Because those in the diplomatic and political sphere know by now that the US president, when it comes to Kashmir, is all talk and no hat.

Platitudes aplenty

Trump is desperate to be seen as a man of action. From withdrawing the US from the Paris Accord to reversing the previous regime's Cuba policy to tearing up the Iran nuclear deal and wooing his 'great personal friend' North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, Trump, if nothing else, has taken big, bold decisions even if the follow up is sorely lacking. And yet, when it comes to Kashmir, Trump has done nothing but repeatedly mouth platitudes about 'getting involved to help' India and Pakistan 'reach an agreement'.

Trump's first offer came during Imran Khan's maiden visit as prime minister to Washington in July 2019. "If I can help, I would love to be a mediator. If I can do anything to help, let me know," Trump told Imran. The US president further added that Modi himself requested that Trump 'mediate' the Kashmir issue, a charge the Ministry of External Affairs vehemently denied.

The following week, on 1 August 2019, Trump, somewhat backpedaling after the chilly response from New Delhi, told reporters at the White House, "It's really up to Prime Minister Modi. I think they are fantastic people Khan and Modi, I mean. I would imagine they could get along very well, but if they wanted somebody to intervene, to help them. and I spoke with Pakistan about that and I spoke frankly in [sic] India about it. If I can, if they wanted me to, I would certainly intervene."

In September 2019, Trump, again speaking to reporters at the White House, said, ""I am willing to help them if they want. They know that. That (offer) is out there." Trump also repeated the 'offer' on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum assembly in Davos, Switzerland during a meeting with Imran in January 2020.

No deal

The fact is, Trump, is in no position to upset either Imran or Modi. Trump, who vowed to 'bring the troops home' while running for president, needs Pakistan's help to broker a peace deal in Afghanistan and extricate the soldiers from the intractable war. And once the troops are home, Trump will be hugely dependent on Pakistan to keep the peace for which the US has spilled countless blood and treasure.

Trump can similarly not afford to antagonise India €" which has been drawing closer and closer to the US since the 90s €" for a whole host of reasons: From US companies like Amazon making great inroads in India to the US needing New Delhi as a strategic counterweight to Beijing's expansionist ambitions and India becoming a larger and more stable trading partner.

And don't forget Trump's personal interests. Trump has had his eye on reelection ever since he took over the Oval Office, filing his paperwork for his 2020 bid the day after his inauguration in January 2017. Remember, this is a man who won the presidency and has continued holding weekly campaign rallies, an 'unpresidented' occurrence in US politics, to steal a phrase from the man himself.

Trump, who is historically unpopular among the US populace, can hardly afford to take his eye of the ball. Antagonising the small, but powerful Indian-American community, which has for years overwhelmingly voted for the Democrats €" 80 percent of Indian-Americans cast their ballot for Hillary Clinton €" is not an option. The last thing the self-confessed 'big fan of Hindu' needs is to jeopardise his reelection bid by getting on the wrong side of an important voting bloc.

With inputs from PTI

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