Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 19 September 2019

Kashmir crisis: Donald Trump urges India and Pakistan to reduce tensions

The US president spoke to both leaders in a bout of telephone diplomacy

US President Donald Trump urged the prime ministers of India and Pakistan to reduce tensions over the disputed region of Kashmir. AP
US President Donald Trump urged the prime ministers of India and Pakistan to reduce tensions over the disputed region of Kashmir. AP

Donald Trump has called the leaders of India and Pakistan in a bout of telephone diplomacy asking them to reduce tensions in their latest Kashmir dispute.

The American president said he had telephoned Narendra Modi and Imran Khan amid fears the latest row between the nuclear-armed neighbours could unsettle US attempts to withdraw from Afghanistan.

Mr Trump admitted the spat over the contested territory was “a tough situation”, but said he had held “good conversations” with his “good friends”.

Ties between Delhi and Islamabad had already been strained before Mr Modi's government earlier this month abolished Indian-administered Kashmir's special autonomous status. Mr Modi's decision to revoke article 370 of the Indian constitution was accompanied by a widespread security clampdown and communications blackout.

Relations have since plummeted, with Pakistan calling the act illegal and trying to get the United Nations security council to intervene. Transport links and cross-border trade have been halted.

“Spoke to my two good friends, Prime Minister Modi of India, and Prime Minister Khan of Pakistan, regarding trade, strategic partnerships and, most importantly, for India and Pakistan to work towards reducing tensions in Kashmir,” Mr Trump said.

He also used asked Mr Khan to tone down his rhetoric, a White House statement said.

"The president reaffirmed the need to avoid escalation of the situation and urged restraint on both sides," a statement said.

While Pakistan has as yet shied away from a military response to Delhi's actions, Mr Khan has made dire warnings about Indian abuses. At the weekend Mr Khan likened to Mr Modi's government to Nazis and accused Delhi of planning ethnic cleansing and massacres in Kashmir to change the demographic balance of India's only Muslim-majority state. He has also claimed India's nuclear weapons are now in the hands of racist, Hindu-supremacist fanatics.

Mr Trump first offered to mediate in the Kashmir dispute when Mr Khan visited Washington to reset ties last month. Pakistan has long sought international intervention to resolve the dispute, while Delhi insists the neighbours must sort the problem out themselves.

Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia Program at the Washington-based The Wilson Centre, said: “This is what US presidents do and have often done when things heat up on the Kashmir front: they advise India and Pakistan to work things out. That said, given recent developments, this tweet makes for good optics for Islamabad.”

Help from both Pakistan and India is seen as critical for Washington to forge any lasting political settlement in Afghanistan as Mr Trump tries to disentangle his military from America's longest war. Mr Trump flattered and courted Mr Khan and Pakistan's military chiefs during his visit last month, seeking Pakistan's influence over the Taliban to finalise a deal. Military paranoia over its far larger neighbour, and fears India was courting the Kabul government, led Pakistan to sponsor the Taliban as a proxy. While Western officials say Pakistan has so far played along with Mr Trump's attempts to reach a settlement with the Taliban, they fear another flare up between Islamabad and Delhi would see Pakistan again back the militants to take over the country.

The Taliban last week issued a statement apparently urging Pakistan and India not to link Kashmir with peace in Afghanistan.

Pakistan has found a muted response to its denunciations of India. Islamabad's Gulf allies appear reluctant to alienate India's trading might. The UAE has called the status change in Kashmir an internal matter for Delhi.

Washington confirmed that Trump and Modi spoke during their call about how to increase trade.

US and Indian trade negotiators ended talks in July, reportedly without resolving disputes over tariffs and other protectionist measures imposed by both sides that are straining bilateral ties.

The two sides had resumed trade talks after Trump and Modi met on the sidelines of the G20 summit in June and agreed to seek to deepen the two countries' relationship.

Trade was also discussed with Mr Khan. The former cricketer is desperate for foreign income as he struggles to navigate Pakistan's economy during a balance of payments crisis and quickly rising inflation. A $6bn bailout secured from the Washington-based International Monetary Fund earlier this year has come with painful tax hikes and subsidy cuts which risk undermining his political popularity.

Updated: August 20, 2019 01:16 PM

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