Kashmir Heightened Tensions: Trump Talks to Modi, Khan to Try to Defuse Situation

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan makes a brief statement to reporters before a meeting with U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) at the U.S. Capitol July 23, 2019 in Washington, DC. In remarks before the meeting, Khan said that U.S.-Pakistan relations need to be reset. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

U.S. President Donald Trump this week called the top leaders of India and Pakistan in a bid to mitigate the growing friction between the two nuclear-armed South Asian rivals over the disputed Muslim-majority region of Kashmir.

On Monday, President Trump revealed via Twitter:

Spoke to my two good friends, Prime Minister [Narendra] Modi of India, and Prime Minister [Imran] Khan of Pakistan, regarding Trade, Strategic Partnerships and, most importantly, for India and Pakistan to work towards reducing tensions in Kashmir. A tough situation, but good conversations:

During the phone conversations, “the President conveyed the importance of reducing tensions between India and Pakistan and maintaining peace in the region,” the White House explained in a statement carried by various news outlets.

“The two leaders further discussed how they will continue to strengthen United States-India economic ties through increased trade, and they look forward to meeting again soon,” the White House added.

Trump’s call came after India’s Hindu nationalist government revoked New Delhi-administered Kashmir’s autonomy on August 5.

New Delhi also broke Indian Kashmir into two federally-controlled areas that include parts of Chinese Kashmir.

Initially, India declared a part of Chinese Kashmir (Aksai Chin) to fall under one of the federally-administered territories, angering Beijing. While in Beijing earlier this month, however, India’s top envoy claimed New Delhi is not interested in annexing Aksai Chin.

Both India and China have warned India’s recent moves in Kashmir could trigger another war. Pakistan has already fought two wars with India over the region. China occupied Aksai Chin in Indian Kashmir after the two countries fought a separate war over the Himalayan region.

Pakistan has ceded control of some of its Kashmir territories (Shaksgam Valley) to China. Meanwhile, India disputes China’s occupation of Aksai Chin.

Military conflicts have split Muslim-majority Kashmir between nuclear-armed India, Pakistan, and China. India and Kashmir claim Kashmir in its entirety. China tends to stay in the shadows of deadly disputes between India and Pakistan over the region, providing Islamabad with economic and military support to defend its position.

A border — the Line of Control (LOC) — divides most of Kashmir between India and Pakistan. A separate boundary— the Line of Actual Control (LAC) — separates Indian Kashmir from China-administered Aksai Chin.

Before India’s recent moves in Kashmir, the Modi administration vehemently rejected a Pakistan and China-backed offer from Trump to mediate the decades-long dispute over the Himalayan region. In dismissing Trump’s proposal, India claimed the argument is a bilateral issue for New Delhi and India to resolve on their own.

In June, the U.S. State Department issued a report accusing the country’s ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of inciting hatred against religious minorities, mainly Muslims and to a lesser extent Christians. The State Department’s assessment irked New Delhi.

New Delhi-held Kashmir is the only Muslim-majority region in India.

Trump called the Pakistani and Indian prime ministers after the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) failed to resolve the ongoing Kashmir dispute.

The UNSC held a closed-door meeting last Friday to discuss the issue, but could not even agree on a joint statement on any solutions.

China supports Pakistan’s position that the Kashmir dispute is an international matter for the U.N. to address.

Russia, however, came out in support of India’s position that the issue is a bilateral matter between New Delhi and Islamabad. The Trump administration also appeared to support New Delhi saying on August 8 that it supports “direct dialogue between India and Pakistan on Kashmir.”

China, Russia, and the U.S. are three of the five permanent UNSC member.

Echoing the Pentagon, India accuses Pakistan of supporting jihadi groups in and around Kashmir, which borders Afghanistan. Islamabad denies the accusations.

In recent years, the U.N. has joined Pakistan in accusing India of killing civilians and committing human rights violations in Kashmir. India is reportedly targeting separatists seeking independence or a merger with Pakistan. New Delhi denies the allegations.

The United Nations n July that the number of civilian casualties in Kashmir in the 12 months ending in April 2019 might have already reached the “highest in over a decade.”

According to the U.N., there were 586 fatalities in Kashmir in 2018, including 160 civilians. The casualties marked the highest number in nearly a decade. Al Jazeera reported that the majority of 2018 deaths in Kashmir occurred in the Indian controlled portion.

Despite a 2003 ceasefire, Indian and Pakistani security forces clash along their Kashmir border almost daily. However, India’s August 5 changes to the region have boosted the confrontations with both sides incurring casualties in recent days.

Pakistan recently accused Indian forces of firing across their Kashmir border and killing two civilians and wounding another on Sunday.

New Delhi deployed thousands of troops into Indian Kashmir before its decision to strip the region of its autonomy. Indian authorities have detained more than 1,300 people, including pro-New Delhi politicians and officials.

New Delhi’s changes to its Kashmir region came amid a security lockdown intended to avert protests. India also imposed communication blackout, including the blocking of phone lines, the internet, and news outlets.

India has only lifted the restrictions from the Hindu-majority regions of Kashmir, some news outlets reported.

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