US President Donald Trump has reiterated an offer to help mediate between India and Pakistan over the disputed territory of Kashmir, a move welcomed by Pakistan but which its neighbour has rejected in the past.
Trump made the offer while speaking to the press alongside Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan before a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in the Swiss town of Davos on Tuesday.
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“We are talking about Kashmir and the relation to what is going on with Pakistan and India,” said President Trump. “And if we can help, we certainly will be helping. We have been watching that and following it very, very closely.”
Pakistan and India have fought two of their three wars since gaining independence from Britain in 1947 over the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir, which both claim in full but administer separate parts of.
Tensions have remained high since India passed a constitutional amendment in August last year, revoking a special status and autonomy for Indian-administered Kashmir and absorbing it into the country’s governance mainstream.
Earlier in 2019, the two countries also fought a limited military conflict over Kashmir, conducting air attacks on each other’s territory.
India against mediation
Trump had offered to mediate at that time and later, an offer that India’s foreign ministry has routinely rejected.
Analysts say that while the offer may not lead to any actual mediation, the fact that Trump brought up Kashmir at all is significant.
“India has been allergic to the mention of Kashmir, especially by the US, and has reacted negatively in the past whenever President Trump has raised the Kashmir issue,” said Hassan Akbar, an Islamabad-based foreign policy analyst.
“It is important President Trump himself brought the issue of Kashmir up in this press interaction. That shows the centrality of the issue to the South Asian region, and within the mind space of President Trump and US policy circles.”
The comments may not, however, be seen with the same positivity in New Delhi.
“Government of India has repeatedly in the past clarified that it has a bilateral agreement with Pakistan and if there are any issues, they will be resolved bilaterally,” Lalit Mansingh, former foreign secretary of India, told Al Jazeera.
“Despite that, Trump keeps repeating it whenever he holds any discussions with Imran Khan. Even Trump has accepted in the past that it is an internal matter of India and Pakistan.”
Trump and Khan have met three times since the latter took power as Pakistan’s prime minister in 2018, each time displaying a particular bonhomie in their interactions.
“We’ve had a great relationship and from the standpoint of our two countries, we are getting along very well,” said Trump, attributing it to the personal relationship between him and Khan. “I would say we have never been closer with Pakistan than we are right now.”
In 2018, Trump cut more than $1.1bn in security assistance to Pakistan over accusations that the country was supporting the Afghan Taliban and its allies in its fight against the US forces in neighbouring Afghanistan.
Last month, the US State Department announced that it would be resuming Pakistan’s participation in a US military training and education programme, which had been part of the earlier suspension.
Central to the recent warming of ties has been the progress made in direct talks between the United States and the Afghan Taliban, facilitated by Pakistan.
On Tuesday, Pakistani Prime Minister Khan said Afghanistan would be central on the agenda of talks with President Trump.
“The main issue, of course, is Afghanistan, because it concerns the US and Pakistan, and fortunately we are on the same page,” he said. “Both of us are interested in peace there and an orderly transition in Afghanistan with talks with Taliban and the government.”
On Saturday, the Afghan government rejected an Afghan Taliban offer of a “reduction in violence” against Afghan forces, demanding a full ceasefire. Talks between US officials and the Taliban to end the 19-year war in Afghanistan are continuing in the Qatari capital Doha.
Trump also suggested that trade would figure highly on the agenda of talks with the Pakistani prime minister.
The US and Pakistan trade ties totalled more than $5.9bn in 2019, according to the US government figures, with $3.6bn of that made up of Pakistani exports to the US.
Pakistan has been seeking to boost exports as its struggles with a stagnating economy, and rising inflation in the face of a weak currency and high imports.