US President Donald Trump on Monday said he is willing to “help” India and Pakistan resolve the Kashmir issue if “they want” but did not, significantly, use words such as “mediate” or “intervene” that he has several times in recent weeks to much irritation in New Delhi and elation in Islamabad.
But given the range of words the American president has used to frame his offer of intervention — “mediate”, “intervene” and “arbitrate”, and variations of those words — it was not clear if “help” marked a departure because he has used that word before as an alternative for “intervene”.
“I’m willing to help them,” Trump told reporters in response to a question. “I get along well with both countries very well. I’m willing to help if they want.”
He also said that India-Pakistan tensions were a “little bit less heated right now than it was two weeks ago”.
India doesn’t want US help, or from any other third-party, and has let it be known for years now, maintaining that Kashmir and all other disputes with Pakistan can only be resolved bilaterally and only after Islamabad gives up using terrorism as a tool to reinforce its case. Pakistan, on the other hand, has sought third-party mediation without renouncing terrorism.
“Help”, the word Trump used Monday, is closer to the longstanding position of the United States, that has been restated by the state department and the White House in the aftermath of the president’s interventions: that India and Pakistan must resolve the Kashmir dispute bilaterally and through direct dialogue, and the United States stands ready to “assist”.
Trump might dump “help” for another word next time he talks about the issue, but New Delhi, said observers, will feel reassured he is not using words such as mediation.
Seen from New Delhi, it has been a torturous crawl from Trump’s first intervention offer made on July 22 at a media appearance in the White House with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan. “If you want me to mediate or arbitrate, I would be willing to do that,” he had said, buttressing his offer with a claim that he had been asked even by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Despite a swift Indian rejection of the offer and a denial of the claim about Modi’s invitation, Trump doubled down on it in an interaction with reporters 10 days later on August 1, volunteering himself “if they wanted somebody to intervene or to help (that word, used interchangeably with intervene) them—and I spoke with Pakistan about that, and I spoke, frankly, to India about it”.
Later in the month, on August 20, Trump said, addressing a joint news briefing with visiting Romanian president Klaus Iohannis, “I will do the best I can to mediate or do something.”
The American president first acknowledged Indian push back to his offers at a joint news briefing with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on August 28, on the sidelines of G-7 summit in Biarritz, France. The Prime Minister, he said, “really feels he has it under control. I know they speak with Pakistan, and I’m sure that they will be able to do something that will be very good”.
Prime Minister Modi, who may have felt under scrutiny because of President Trump’s claims, used the media interaction to clarify his position on the issue unequivocally. Issues between India and Pakistan were bilateral in nature, he said through an interpreter, and “we do not want to give pains to any country in the world—to, in fact, try to do anything in this, because these issues are bilateral”.