The uncharitable would say Donald Trump had consumed an intoxicant when he made those remarks about mediating on Kashmir between India and Pakistan. Others would say he was just being Trump! As one has seen in the past, his ignorance about national or international issues does not hold him back from saying whatever he wants.
The question is how seriously must India take those remarks on Kashmir? The Indian government was quick to react. External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar told Parliament that no request for mediation was ever made by Prime Minister Modi. “I would like to categorically assure the house that no such request has been made…”
But India can take little comfort from the comments of the U.S. State Department which said, “While Kashmir is a bilateral issue for both parties to discuss, the Trump Administration welcomes India & Pakistan sitting down and the U.S. stands ready to assist.”
To be fair, the State Department cannot be expected to deny the remarks of its own President. Indian diplomats say the only option is to wait and watch how U.S. policy towards Delhi moves in the weeks ahead. There seems little doubt that the U.S.-Pakistan relationship has moved forward, but has it moved forward far enough to return to the days when they were allies and partners? That’s not clear.
What’s clear is the U.S. urgency to get its troops out of Afghanistan. Some reports have referred to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo preferring a pullout by September this year. Arun K Singh, India’s former ambassador to Washington, thinks that deadline is too early.
“Negotiations are still ongoing, there are many issues to settle including the future of the elected government of President Ashraf Ghani, Taliban participation in elections, the sanctity of rights and freedoms including that of women and many others,” he said.
The big question is whether Pakistan will play spoiler, as it has done so often in the past. Will Pakistan allow the Taliban the space to politically grow and consolidate in a peaceful manner without the current violence? Will the strategic priorities of the Pakistani military take precedence? Could Afghanistan again become a mecca for international terrorism?
These questions only Gen Qamar Bajwa, the Pakistani army chief, can answer and he was closeted in conversations with top U.S. officials in Washington DC. The U.S. has leverage and Islamabad desperately needs to stay on Uncle Sam’s good side to ensure a steady flow of money to revive its bankrupt economy.
But terror groups continue to operate from its soil although they appear to have adopted a low profile. Pakistan continues to play footsie with the Taliban, doing little to curb its murderous proclivities. The Haqqani network and other groups flourish. The chief of Lashkar-e-Toiba, Hafiz Saeed, was arrested for the umpteenth time.
From an Indian point of view, the economic crisis has not compelled Pakistan to change the rules of its game, to be a normal country. Imran Khan may have cemented ties with the U.S. and won a perception battle at home but in Indian eyes he is still the representative of a terror state, Trump or no Trump.