Prime Minister Narendra Modi is on a state visit to the US and he has used the opportunity to assert India’s stand on bilateral issues. Citing the example of surgical strikes, PM Modi praised the Indian Army for its prowess. The statement assumes importance mainly for two reasons — the timing and past suggestions by US President Donald Trump’s administration that they would be open to ‘mediate’ or in simple words be party to in a bilateral issue.
“When India talked of terrorism 20 years back, many in the world said it was a law and order problem and didn’t understand it. Now, terrorists have explained terrorism to them so we don’t have to,” the prime minister said at a community meet in Virginia. The statement came just ahead of a strategic meeting with Trump and India’s bilateral issues, particularly with Pakistan and China, would more than likely come up for discussion.
“When India conducted surgical strikes the world experienced our power and realised that India practices restraint but can show power when needed.” He stated that India has been a victim of terrorism but “we have succeeded in conveying to the world the deleterious effects of terrorism on India,” PM Modi said.
On May 21, in his first speech on foreign soil as president, Trump spoke at the Arab-Islamic-US summit in Saudi Arabia’s capital Riyadh. What stuck out from his speech was that he described India as a “victim of terrorism” and Pakistan found no mention even as Nawaz Sharif looked on from the front row. Furthermore, the higher ups in the US administration including President Trump have made suggestions and often willingness of mediating India’s bilateral issues with Pakistan to which India has clear objections.
In end of November 2016, then President-elect Trump spoke with Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif over phone. Trump reportedly said that he was “ready and willing to play any role that you (Pakistan) want me to play to address and find solutions to the outstanding problems.” A press release of the phone conversation between the two leaders was released by the Pakistan government.
Pakistan has always been overzealous to invite third party mediators — US, China, Russia etc — to intervene in its bilateral issues. In such a situation, it becomes imperative for India to assert that its bilateral issues are not to be meddled with by a third party. Meanwhile, the “outstanding problems” slowly unraveled in the coming months.
Then US vice president-elect Mike Pence said in early December last year that there had been “great tension between India and Pakistan in recent days (referring to Uri terror attacks and India’s surgical strikes on Pak terror launchpads). It’s resulted in violence along the Kashmir region.” Pence later added that Trump wanted to make it clear to both India and Pakistan that “when this administration takes office, that we intend to be fully engaged in the region and fully engaged with both nations to advance peace and security”.
On April 4, Nikki Haley, US ambassador to the United Nations, now in the Trump administration, said in a press conference, “It’s absolutely right that this administration is concerned about the relationship between India and Pakistan and very much wants to see how we de-escalate any sort of conflict going forward.” She added that it wouldn’t surprise her “if the President participates in that as well.”
It seems clear that the Trump administration has a clear strategy on how they wish to handle south Asia and active involvement could be a tangible option in pursuing that strategy. What PM Modi’s statement indicates is that India is not a pushover on security issues and will limit international intervention on the Kashmir issue.