Trump’s school of diplomacy

US President Donald Trump’s hopes of mediating between India and Pakistan have been shot down even before they could take off. Trump claimed that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had asked him during their recent meeting in Osaka, on the sidelines of the G-20 summit, to mediate between India and Pakistan on Kashmir. The Ministry of External Affairs has denied that Modi made such a request. Trump’s claim, which was made in the presence of visiting Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, is not just disingenuous and undiplomatic but also, it is irresponsible. The US President is reportedly keen to be awarded the Nobel Prize. His desperation is driving him to fish in troubled waters in various parts of the world. This would have been acceptable if his rhetoric and actions served to calm restive regions. It has not. In the case of India and Pakistan, he appears to have little understanding of the issues. His irresponsible moves may, in fact, encourage Pakistan to step up its provocation of India through support to anti-India terrorist acts, indulge in incendiary rhetoric in international forums and so on.

Pakistan’s domestic finances are in a mess. In the wake of the terror attack at Pulwama, the international community has put pressure on Pakistan to mend its ways. However small these may be, the Pakistani government has begun taking steps to curb terror groups. At a critical time like this, the international community must keep up its pressure on Pakistan so that its counter-terror measures are taken to their logical conclusion. Instead of stressing that the Pakistani government should act consistently to eliminate the infrastructure of terrorism from the country, Trump has diverted attention to himself and his role as a mediator. He has provided Pakistan with an escape route now to avoid acting on terror and indulge instead in empty and insincere talk on Trump and talks. The international community must not be fooled by Pakistan’s empty rhetoric.

Building on Trump’s offer, Pakistan is likely to proclaim loudly its interest in talks with India. India must remain cautious as Pakistan’s keenness on talks now is a tactical move aimed at getting the US and other countries to resume aid. New Delhi should pre-empt such moves with a clear strategy of its own. If it is going to engage in talks with Pakistan, it should do so to achieve limited goals in defined timelines, such as putting confidence building measures (CBMs) in place, strengthening existing CBMs or clinching a deal on ‘low-hanging fruit’, such as Sir Creek, which are believed to be within reach. The larger issues of contention between the two countries can be addressed when Pakistan shows itself to be a responsible neighbour and sincere in its quest for peace with India.

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