Below is US President Donald J Trump’s controversial quote in extenso pertaining to his offer of personal mediation to resolve the Kashmir dispute. This was in his exchange with the Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan presently in Washington ostensibly to “reset” Pakistan-US relations:
“I was with Prime Minister Modi two weeks ago [at the G-20 Summit in Tokyo] and we talked about this subject (Kashmir). And he actually said, ‘would you like to be a mediator or arbitrator?’ I said, ‘where?’ (Modi said) ‘Kashmir’ Because this has been going on for many, many years. I am surprised that how long. It has been going on (for long).”
“I think they (Indians) would like to see it resolved. I think you would like to see it resolved. And if I can help, I would love to be a mediator. It should be….we have two incredible countries that are very, very smart with very smart leadership, (and they) can’t solve a problem like that. But if you would want me to mediate or arbitrate, I would be willing to do that. So all those issues should be resolved. So, he (Mr. Modi) has to ask me the same thing. So maybe we’ll speak to him. Or I’ll speak to him and we’ll see if we can do something.”
Obviously and, as he is known routinely to do, Trump invented the lie on the spur of the moment to burnish his image as potential peacemaker — that Modi asked him in their Tokyo meeting if he would be “mediator or arbitrator” on the Kashmir dispute. But just as he time and again trips over his own lies, he did so again in his very next bunch of statements, when he stated that for him to mediate Modi would have “to ask” him to do that. Trump apparently warmed up to that idea of mediation after Imran iterated the old Islamabad line of the Kashmir problem needing a US intervention to be resolved, whence the American leader’s prospective lunge for that peace-maker role with his declaration with the royal “we”: “We’ll speak to him [Modi]” before immediately moderating it to “I’ll speak to him [Modi] and we’ll see if we can do something.”
Now, whatever else Prime Minister Narendra Modi may be he is not politically daft and, considering how much of a live-grenade issue Kashmir is, simply couldn’t have said anything of the kind attributed to him by Trump. But was there a reference to Kashmir in his tete-a-tete with Trump that led the latter to concoct a story around? It would appear so.
Based on the fact of Delhi, over the past two decades and especially during Modi’s tenure, incessantly squawking to Washington about Pakistan’s nefarious hand in Kashmir affairs, one can reasonably surmise that the Indian PM brought up Kashmir in their talk by way of, perhaps, a throwaway complaint and may have added for good measure that were Pakistan to butt out, all related problems would be promptly resolved. So, when Imran brought up Kashmir, Trump probably impulsively responded the way he did, in part because while Modi’s grasp of the English language is adequate, it is not nuanced and so any passing reference to peace in that region may have been interpreted by Trump — who in any case hears what he wants to hear rather than respond to something that was actually said — as some sort of invitation to him to arbitrate. The US President’s ability to spot Kashmir on the map of the world may be suspect but he was free with his views about what prevails there. With Imran looking on, scarcely believing what he was hearing, Trump described the Kashmir situation “as bombs everywhere, bombs all over the place… it’s a terrible situation”! ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jff2Cp7vLjg ) How does that sit with the Indian government and with Modi who has staked so much of his foreign policy on making India revolve around US interests?
Sure, the US State Department sought to douse any political fire in India that Trump’s statements may have started by quickly endorsing the Indian government’s line of any resolution of the Kashmir dispute necessarily being through means of bilateral negotiations. But Trump’s ham-handed attempt only highlights the ever-present danger of Washington somehow insinuating itself into the dispute resolution process, which the Indian government willingly disbelieves until a televised event such as this happens.
I have for a long time now maintained that Modi is doing just about every thing wrong with his policy of unilateral friendship and strategic concessions vis a vis the United States. Much of this is due to his unrequited enthusiasm, even love, for America and things American that blinds him to the serious cost of his approach — a steady erosion of the national interest. But Trump extemporaneously also made clear his dichotomous view of the world when, in referring to Afghanistan, he said that the US would not any more play “the policeman” of the world — meaning that he was “extricating” US forces from that country, but added that if he wanted to he could end the Afghanistan war in no time at all by killing “10 million” people, by using weapons of mass destruction, such as thermobaric bombs (fuel air explosives). In other words, he set up the US as either playing the global policeman or using WMD! And this is the American President, also with his curious views on Kashmir, that Modi is banking on to assist him in furthering India’s interests?
There’s lots Modi can do to right his policy of tilt. He can begin by resisting the temptation to show of his English language skills and speak to world leaders, and particularly Trump, only in Hindi (even better, in Gujarati) in which he’s more fluent. It will also put the foreign leaders off their game — a strategy routinely used by the Chinese nomenklatura and perfected by Maozedong’s premier, Zhouenlai. It is a diplomatic method studiously followed by North Korea and other countries that have successfully dealt with the US and the West generally.
Native languages as diplomatic tool is something MEA has never used, leave alone exploited, to the country’s advantage. Because in head-to-head exchanges between leaders, the one using other than English is always at an advantage. For instance, were Modi to carry on diplomatic business only in Hindi or Gujarati — albeit inconveniencing foreign minister K. Jaishankar with only street-level acquaintance with Hindi and none at all of Gujarati — foreign interpreters/note-takers helping out their leaders will be hard put to get it right. So when aide memoirs/diplomatic notes are shared the Indian note will naturally have precedence. This is precisely the tactic Chinese interlocuters have traditionally used to baffle foreigners, and to obtain the diplomatic edge. President Vladimir Putin too speaks only in Russian in his formal exchanges even though he has a better handle on the English language than Modi.