NEW DELHI: India’s foreign minister was forced to issue a strenuous denial to an infuriated opposition in parliament on Tuesday, after US President Donald Trump said Prime Minister Narendra Modi had invited him to mediate in the conflict with Pakistan over Kashmir.
While Pakistan has often sought third-party mediation in the decades-old dispute which has cost tens of thousands of lives, the idea is anathema to India, which has always insisted the issue can only be resolved bilaterally.
Trump set off a political storm in India by claiming during a meeting on Monday with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan in Washington that Modi had asked him two weeks ago to mediate in the Kashmir dispute.
“I’d like to categorically assure the house that no such request was made by the prime minister to the US president,” Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar told the Indian parliament, barely able to make his voice heard over the opposition tumult.
Jaishankar insisted the conflict could only be settled bilaterally and that Pakistan had to end “cross-border terrorism” before any talks.
Trump’s comments touched on one of the most sensitive topics for New Delhi.
India and Pakistan have fought two wars over the region and tens of thousands, mainly civilians, have died since an insurgency erupted three decades ago in Indian-held Kashmir.
Trump made the claim while speaking from the Oval Office where he hosted Prime Minister Imran Khan.
“We have seen [Donald Trump’s] remarks to the press that he is ready to mediate, if requested by India and Pakistan, on Kashmir issue. No such request has been made by Narendra Modi to US President,” said India’s Ministry of External Affairs Spokesperson Raveesh Kumar.
…that all outstanding issues with Pakistan are discussed only bilaterally. Any engagement with Pakistan would require an end to cross border terrorism. The Shimla Agreement & the Lahore Declaration provide the basis to resolve all issues between India & Pakistan bilaterally.2/2
— Raveesh Kumar (@MEAIndia) July 22, 2019
Trump said he could also help mend the strained ties between the two nuclear-armed neighbours.
“I was with Modi two weeks ago and we talked about this subject and he actually said ‘Would you like to be a mediator or arbitrator’, I said ‘Where’, He said ‘Kashmir’. Because this has been going on for many, many years… I think they would like to see it resolved and you [Imran Khan] would like to see it resolved. If I can help, I would love to be a mediator,” Trump said.
The US president met Modi on the sidelines of the the G20 Summit in Osaka, Japan last month.
The “prayers of over a billion people will be with you if you can mediate and resolve the situation,” PM Imran responded.
New Delhi has demonstrated its belligerence on the Kashmir issue and has been against any third-party mediation.
Islamabad, however, has repeatedly sought this at various international forums, including the United Nations.
India has also refused to initiate dialogue with Pakistan despite repeated appeals from PM Imran.
#Kashmir soon became one of the top trends on social media with Indians denying that Modi would ever made such a request to Trump.
I honestly don’t think Trump has the slightest idea of what he’s talking about. He has either not been briefed or not understood what Modi was saying or what India’s position is on 3rd-party mediation. That said, MEA should clarify that Delhi has never sought his intercession. https://t.co/DxRpNu6vw2
— Shashi Tharoor (@ShashiTharoor) July 22, 2019
Indian opposition leaders demanded that Modi make a personal statement to parliament to confirm that there was no change in New Delhi’s longstanding policy of only direct talks with Islamabad.
Khan – on an official visit to the United States – stirred the controversy further by saying Kashmir could only be resolved with outside help.
“Bilaterally, there will never be (an end to the Kashmir conflict),” Khan told Fox News, adding that Pakistan and India were “poles apart”.
“I really feel that India should come… (to) the table. The US could play a big part, President Trump certainly can play a big part.”