Indian officials have denied claims made by United States President Donald Trump that he was invited by the Indian government to mediate in the long-running Kashmir conflict, after his comments provoked a social media firestorm in India.
Raveesh Kumar, spokesman for India’s Ministry of External Affairs, tweeted late Monday that “no such request has been made” by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Kumar also reiterated that the territorial dispute needs to be resolved bilaterally between India and Pakistan, who have been bitter rivals for decades.
Trump first made the claim on Monday at the White House, speaking alongside Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, who said he’d request Trump’s help in bringing peace to the region.
“I was with Prime Minister Modi two weeks ago and we talked about this subject,” Trump told Khan. “And he actually said, ‘Would you like to be a mediator or arbitrator?’ I said, ‘Where?’ He said, ‘Kashmir.’ Because this has been going on for many, many years.”
“I think they’d like to see it resolved and I think you’d like to see it resolved,” Trump went on. “If I could help, I would love to be a mediator.”
He later added that Kashmir is “supposed to be such a beautiful part of the world, but right now there’s just bombs all over the place,” and reiterated his offer of help.
His comments unleashed fury and indignation across Indian social media – as well as complaints from back home. Many argued that US intervention would violate the 1972 Simla Agreement between India and Pakistan, which decreed that the two countries would “settle their differences by peaceful means through bilateral negotiations.”
Rahul Gandhi, an opposition Member of Parliament in India, tweeted that if Trump’s claims were true, “PM Modi has betrayed India’s interests & 1972 Shimla Agreement.”
“President Trump’s recent claims about Kashmir need a swift, clear and emphatic response from the PM of India,” tweeted Akhilesh Yadav, the former chief minister of the Indian state Uttar Pradesh. “The claims made by POTUS violate past agreements and also call into question our autonomy, sovereignty and national security.”
Trump’s remarks were also met with domestic criticism. “Everyone who knows anything about foreign policy in South Asia knows that India consistently opposes third-party mediation re Kashmir,” tweeted Democratic Rep. Brad Sherman, who called Trump’s statement “amateurish and delusional.”
The US State Department quickly tried to tamp down the outrage with a statement Monday night, which said the Kashmir conflict was a “bilateral issue” and that “the United States stands ready to assist.”
The only one who doesn’t seem upset is Khan himself – he thanked Trump and said he was “surprised by reaction of India to Pres Trump’s offer of mediation,” citing the urgent need for resolution.
India and Pakistan have been locked in a struggle over Kashmir for more than 70 years. Wars in 1947 and 1965 were fought directly over Kashmir, and ongoing violence has killed more than 47,000 people since 1989.
This toll doesn’t include people who have disappeared due to the conflict, and some human rights groups and nongovernmental organizations put the death toll at twice that amount.
Tensions remain high – March saw days of military exchanges between the two countries, sparking the gravest crisis in the disputed border region in years.
So why does the mountainous region mean so much to the two countries?
Kashmir initially remained independent and was free to accede to either nation. When the Hindu king of Kashmir chose to join India in exchange for military protection, Jammu and Kashmir state became the only Muslim-majority state in the country.
Jammu and Kashmir state covers around 45% of Kashmir, in the south and east of the region, while Pakistan controls Azad Kashmir, Gilgit and Baltistan, which cover around 35% of the total territory in the north and west. Both countries claim complete ownership of Kashmir; also in the picture is China, which controls around 20% of Kashmir territory known as Aksai Chin.
Nikhil Kumar contributed reporting.