Other Voices 8-27-19

File photo of U.S. President Donald Trump and Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan speaking to the media during a meeting in the Oval Office at the White House on July 22, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

In the wake of the historical and controversial political move on Aug. 5 when the Indian government abrogated special category status to Jammu and Kashmir by abrogating Articles 370 and 35A of the Indian Constitution, President Donald Trump has for a second time interjected himself into a bilateral contestation.

On July 22, while meeting with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, prior to any abrogation, President Trump stated, "This has been going on for many, many years… If I can help, I would love to be a mediator. It’s impossible to believe two incredible countries that are very, very smart with very smart leadership can’t solve a problem like that."

Fast-forward one month, and following a seismic geopolitical realignment, President Trump has once again stated, “It’s going on for a long period of time. But I get along really well with both of them. As you know, prime minister (Imran) Khan was here just recently. I am going to be with prime minister (Narendra) Modi over the weekend in France. I think we are helping in the situation. But there is tremendous problem between those two countries and I will do the best I can to mediate or do something."

These comments have driven shockwaves throughout India and Indian American communities across the United States. At first glance, it would appear that a U.S. president interceding on behalf of two countries to prevent war would be encouraging; but that’s at first glance. That’s without knowing the history of India and Pakistan, and the deep-rooted conflict for the Pakistan-occupied territory of Kashmir. Let me explain.

Under the partition plan provided by the Indian Independence Act, Kashmir had a clear choice to either accede to India or Pakistan. Maharaja Hari Singh chose India, which led to years of conflict and terrorism inflicted by Pakistan. Pakistan wanted Kashmir by hook or crook, by any means necessary. In the process Pakistan has lost half of its Airforce and Navy, 90,000 POWs, half of its population, one-third of its land to the “new country” of Bangladesh; not to mention, an international rebuke during its fourth attack on India in 1999 – President Trump understands all this.

While the president is not looking to mediate the conflict, he is looking to establish strategic positioning, both for the United States and India. If you want insight on what’s going on inside the mind of President Trump, pay no attention to his “casual word,” rather look at his actions. In 2018, President Trump and his administration withheld around $800 million in aid to Pakistan. In February of 2019 following the Pulwama attacks, President Trump sided with India, emphatically proclaiming that he understands India's desire for a strong response. Additionally, he called out the Pakistani-based terror group Jaish-e-Mohammed. The full statement identified the place of the attack as “Jammu and Kashmir” – by choosing to use India’s official terms, the president is clearly indicating his loyalties.

As a Hindu-American who migrated to the United States in 1969 and as a personal friend of President Trump, I am confident that India can rest assured that the president is both well informed and knowledgeable of this 70+ year conflict; additionally, he is sympathetic to India.

With regards to a statement from Indian Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Raveesh Kumar, the president is aware of India and Pakistan’s position on bilateral negotiations, the Shimla Agreement, and the Lahore Declaration. The Pulwama suicide attacks that led to the death of more than 40 Indian soldiers are still fresh on President Trump’s mind; these were amongst the deadliest targetings of Indian soldiers in Kashmir since the insurgency began 72 years ago. It’s on the record that the Trump administration and State Department were in communication with India during this time, as friends, seeking a resolution; India-Pakistan bilateral agreements would have been discussed.

Pakistan needs the United States to intervene; this would counterbalance and likely end any of India’s highly effective surgical air strikes on targeted military bases in Pakistani territory. Meanwhile, Pakistan would continue to deny direct affiliation, yet indirectly protect and support groups such as Jaish-e-Mohammed, placing India’s national security at great risk.

Once again, President Trump understands this, but even a non-negotiation requires negotiation. 

Judge the president based upon his actions, not “casual words.” As someone who knows the president, I am certain that India does have a “true friend” in the United States.

(The writer, an Indian American entrepreneur, is founder of the Republican Hindu Coalition.)

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