US President Donald Trump urged India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi on September 24 to improve ties with Pakistan and “fulfil his promise to better the lives of the Kashmiri people,” the White House said after Trump-Modi meeting on the sidelines of the annual UN gathering. Earlier, talking to reporters at joint press conference with Modi before their bilateral meeting, Trump suggested Pakistan-India summit on Kashmir, expressing his optimism that the “good things” would happen when the “two great gentlemen” will meet. He said he believed that Prime Minister Imran and Prime Minister Modi would “get along when they get to know” each other. In a series of tweets after the meeting, India’s Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale said that Kashmir issue came up during the Trump-Modi meeting.
Tension between India and Pakistan reached a feverish pitch on 5 August, when New Delhi unilaterally annexed occupied Kashmir, revoking a constitutional guarantee that gave a special status to the disputed territory. A strict lockdown and communications blackout was imposed in the region that has snapped off ordinary people’s internet and mobile telephone service across occupied Kashmir. And when Trump and Imran met, crackdown had crossed its 50th day. Trump was asked about his opinion on the lockdown in the IoK. Instead of answering the question put up by a Pakistani reporter, Trump started praising the journalist. “He is a good reporter. Where do you find these reporters?” he asked PM Imran.
While Imran Khan was still queuing up for a meeting with Trump, latter was hobnobbing with Modi in a 50,000 gathering in Houston and pledging to, jointly with India, counter Muslim extremism. He also announced the schedule for first ever joint tri-service military exercise with India. According to ABC news, “Justice for All”, an interfaith human rights group, and its allies had organised a massive protest demonstration outside the Houston venue with protesters chanting “Go back Modi” and “Modi is a terrorist”. Trump has once again reiterated his offer for mediation between Pakistan and India on the Kashmir dispute but emphasised that arbitration could not be carried out unless both the parties involved welcome it; what a useless offer it is, embedded with a non-starter, both by default and design. Avoiding to directly answer a question about UN resolutions on Kashmir, Trump emphasised that he is ready to play his role in South Asia if both India and Pakistan are willing.
Imran met Trump on September 23.PM explained Pakistan’s clear, categorical and firm stance on Kashmir. When asked if he was concerned about human rights violations in occupied Kashmir (IoK), Trump said, “Yes…I am, I want both sides to come to the negotiating table… I’d like to see everything work out. I want everybody to be treated well. There is always a solution and I do believe that there is a solution.” Trump added that he had heard a “very aggressive” statement from Modi on September 22, but “I hope they (Pakistan and India) are going to be able to come together and do something that’s really smart and good for both”.
Imran Khan, who has declared himself an Ambassador of Kashmiris, spent most of his time out of seven-day visit to the US, briefing US lawmakers, scholars, human rights activists and media on the repercussions of the Indian annexation of the disputed territory of Kashmir. Premier met with the founder the Kashmir Study Group, Farooq Kathwari, during which he urged Kathwari to continue informing the world about India’s illegal occupation and human rights violations in occupied Kashmir so that they could see the real face of Modi’s government. The Prime Minister also met Amnesty International’s Secretary General Komi Naidoo and discussed with him the dire human rights situation and ongoing humanitarian crisis in IoK. Naidoo briefed PM Imran on Amnesty’s advocacy work on Kashmir including its social media campaign captioned “#LetKashmirSpeak”. PM Imran appreciated the lead role that Amnesty was playing in presenting the real state of human rights in the occupied territory and amplifying the voices of the Kashmiri population in a state of perpetual lockdown. Premier also lauded Amnesty’s report on the use of pellet guns by India and their devastating impact on the Kashmiri youth.
After it was confirmed that Trump would meet both Indian and Pakistani prime ministers, diplomatic observers in Washington had guessed the strong possibility that he may use the meetings to discuss the situation in Kashmir. About a week before meeting the two prime ministers, President Trump had told reporters at a White House briefing that “a lot of progress” has been made in defusing India-Pakistan tension. Trump’s recent comments on Kashmir and India-Pakistan relations have triggered speculations about direct or indirect dialogue between the two, with Washington playing the role of a facilitator.
The silver lining is that After PM Imran’s powerful presentation of Kashmir cause at the UNGA, the US has, at official level, urged India to ease restrictions on the people of IoK. However, Reuters has reported, “Authorities in India-occupied Kashmir tightened restrictions on people’s movement to prevent possible protests… Soon after the speech, hundreds of Kashmiris came out of their homes, shouting slogans in support of Khan and calling for the independence of Kashmir”. In the weeks since Kashmir’s lockdown, thousands of elected politicians, activists and trade unionists have been imprisoned or put under “house arrest”. Over 13000 young men, including minors, have been arrested in night raids by the police, with many transported to jails outside the IoK. World is all about money and power, unfortunately. Kashmir does not have oil or strategic significance. That is why it is not receiving much world attention.
—The writer is a freelance columnist based in Islamabad.