Late Monday evening, US President Donald Trump called Prime Minister Narendra Modi. According to official sources, their 30-minute conversation was “even better than the press release”.
The Indian officials sounded quite relieved. There has been a lot of bitterness in the India-US relationship of late, marked by Trump telling reporters, as he stood beside Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan at the White House, that Modi had asked him to mediate between India and Pakistan on Kashmir – the Indian government promptly denied the US President’s comments.
Even the spat on bilateral trade remains unresolved. It seems that US trade representative Robert Lighthizer has found little time to meet with Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal, even though Delhi is ready to roll back additional tariffs on several US products.
Last week, though, the Americans came out in support of Delhi when China, speaking on behalf of Pakistan, sought to castigate Delhi at the closed-door meetings of the UN Security Council called to discuss Kashmir. Along with France and Russia, the US prevented a formal statement from being issued.
Imran Khan’s insecurity
Trump’s Monday call is important because it vindicates India’s position that the abrogation of Article 370 is an ‘internal matter’. Modi evidently told the US President that “certain leaders in the region,” namely Imran Khan, were indulging in “extreme rhetoric and incitement to anti-India violence…”.
Certainly, Khan has outdone himself on the rhetoric front. A series of tweets on the weekend exposed both his insecurity and anger:
India has been captured, as Germany had been captured by Nazis, by a fascist, racist Hindu Supremacist ideology & leadership.This threatens 9m Kashmiris under siege in IOK for over 2 weeks which shd have sent alarm bells ringing across the world with UN Observers being sent there
— Imran Khan (@ImranKhanPTI) August 18, 2019
Now that the UN Observers haven’t caught a plane to Srinagar and even Trump doesn’t particularly look like he cares whether the two warring neighbours reach a nuclear flashpoint over Kashmir – he is probably more concerned about China massing armed police and armoured personnel carriers in nearby Shenzhen, within spitting distance of Hongkong –, it might be time for Pakistan to think up a real trick or two.
Why Trump called Modi
So, what happened? Why did Trump call Modi?
The answer, perhaps, lies in Pakistan ambassador to the US Asad Majeed Khan’s comments to the New York Times a week ago. He said that in the wake of the abrogation of Article 370, the Pakistanis may have to redeploy their troops from the Afghan theatre to Kashmir.
Considering Trump was counting so much on the Pakistanis to deliver the Afghan timetable for peace, so that US troops could get back home as quickly as possible, Asad Majeed’s comments may have hit a raw nerve.
Certainly, Majeed cannot be faulted for thinking about blackmail in these tough times. With the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) noose closing in, the Pakistani ‘miltablishment’ (or ‘military establishment’ as Friday Times editor Najam Sethi puts it) has less and less money to pay for the conflict that has been bleeding India for decades.
Imran Khan’s troubles
So, what happens when Pakistan is broke within and friendless without? Remember, only China came to its help at the UNSC last week. Moreover, how long is China going to bail out its client state when it has its own problems, like Hong Kong, to think about?
Poor Imran Khan. He is so completely out of his depth playing prime minister that he has even outsourced the running of the state to his army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, by extending him for another three years.
The bigger question remains: Does Gen. Bajwa’s ‘miltablishment’ want to keep quiet in the face of the massacre of innocent Shias in a wedding hall in Kabul in which 63 people died, all civilians? The Islamic State has taken responsibility for the attack – evidently, the IS has been responsible for 60 attacks between 2015-2017 in Afghanistan – which allows Gen. Bajwa to get away with the charade that the Taliban is hardly as dangerous.
As for Kashmir, the world remains watchful for signs of human rights violations in that Union Territory. France, Germany and others will do a U-turn at the sight of greater tension in the Valley. But one thing is clear: The international community is not about to challenge Narendra Modi’s unilateral abrogation of Article 370.
Nor does Modi particularly care about phrases like ‘internationalisation’ or the ‘will of the people’ of Kashmir that the world, for decades, has used to rap India on the knuckles with.
Eye to eye with China
As for China, the Trump call serves another purpose, which is that it allows New Delhi to look Beijing in the eye. Remember that Chinese president Xi Jinping is coming to India in October – and despite the fact that China took Kashmir to the UN Security Council, neither has called off the meeting or said anything critical about it.
This compartmentalisation of foreign policy tells us two things: First, that China wants a decent relationship with India, for fear of India taking US help to become the next Asian power. Second, support for ‘iron brother’ Pakistan comes at a huge price.
Modi will now follow up his conversation with Trump by flying off to countries like France and UAE later this week, which came out in support of India’s “Kashmir is an internal matter” statement. Modi will be back in Biarritz, France, for the G7 meeting on 25 August, where India is a partner country and therefore can sit only in some meetings.
Remember that the big boys – and Angela Merkel – will be at Biarritz. Certainly, Modi isn’t letting a photo opportunity like that slip by. As he told Trump on the phone, he is in New York next month for the UN General Assembly meetings. On the other hand, they may just say hello in Biarritz.