Trump tries to calm tensions between India and Pakistan

Kashmiri refugees in Pakistan-administered Kashmir shouting anti-Indian slogans during a protest in Muzaffarabad yesterday. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has kept Kashmir under lockdown for more than two weeks after scrapping the region's auton
Kashmiri refugees in Pakistan-administered Kashmir shouting anti-Indian slogans during a protest in Muzaffarabad yesterday. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has kept Kashmir under lockdown for more than two weeks after scrapping the region's autonomy, a move condemned by Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

He has separate conversations with leaders of both nations embroiled in row over Kashmir

NEW DELHI • US President Donald Trump has spoken separately with the leaders of India and Pakistan in a bid to calm tensions between the nuclear-armed neighbours over a territorial dispute.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has kept Kashmir under lockdown for more than two weeks after scrapping the region's autonomy, a move condemned by Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan. Both nations claim the area, which has triggered two of the three wars they fought since the British left the subcontinent in 1947.

Mr Trump said on Twitter that he spoke to his "good friends" Mr Modi and Mr Khan about getting the two countries "to work towards reducing tensions in Kashmir. A tough situation, but good conversations!" That might prove difficult.

Mr Khan recently compared Mr Modi's "Hindu supremacist" government to the Nazis, and also said India was suppressing its sizeable Muslim minority and endangering regional security.

In their latest conversation, Mr Khan told Mr Trump that Pakistan "foresees a humanitarian crisis" arising from India's "unilateral action" in Kashmir, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi told reporters late on Monday.

In a statement on Mr Modi's conversation with Mr Trump, the Indian Prime Minister's office did not refer explicitly to Kashmir, saying only that "in the context of the regional situation, the Prime Minister stated that extreme rhetoric and incitement to anti-India violence by certain leaders in the region was not conducive to peace".

The speed with which Mr Modi's government has sought to take control in Kashmir may be linked to larger concerns about the US moving out its troops from neighbouring Afghanistan, analysts said.

Mr Trump's comments on Kashmir may also be a way to assure Pakistan that its interests will be safeguarded in return for its help to keep the Taleban in check in Afghanistan, Dr Harsh Pant, professor of international relations at King's College London, said.

"The larger geopolitics of the region was a major reason for India to immediately push for greater control over Kashmir," said Dr Pant. "For Trump, his priority is elections. Every time he brings up Afghanistan, Pakistan is bound to bring up Kashmir. But Trump's comments are mostly optics. Operationally the trajectory of US-India relations remains unchanged."

 
 
 

The US-Taleban talks have taken on greater urgency ahead of Afghanistan's Sept 28 presidential polls. Mr Trump is expected to push Mr Khan to pressure the Taleban into signing a permanent ceasefire in Afghanistan.

Mr Michael Kugelman, a Washington-based South Asia senior associate at The Wilson Centre, said the fast pace of peace talks was raising the likelihood of a future Afghan government with a prominent role for the Taleban - a best-case scenario for Islamabad and a worst-case endgame for New Delhi.

More than two weeks after the sudden decision to scrap autonomy in Kashmir, India is yet to release local political leaders who have been detained without legal recourse.

Fixed-line telephones in the valley are working and movement restrictions are being eased, Mr Dilbagh Singh, director-general of police for Jammu and Kashmir, said late on Monday. There was no word on when the Internet blackout would be lifted.

Mr Trump's conversations with the two South Asian leaders comes nearly a month after he said he would help resolve the Kashmir dispute by mediating talks. Mr Trump said he made the offer after being asked to do so by Mr Modi - a request vigorously denied by India.

Meanwhile, Pakistan on Monday accused India of waging "fifth-generation warfare" by failing to inform Islamabad about the release of water from a dam that could cause flooding across the border. India rejected the claim saying that under the terms of a water treaty between the two nations it had informed Pakistan of the move.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 21, 2019, with the headline 'Trump tries to calm tensions between India and Pakistan'. Print Edition | Subscribe