In the first phone conversation between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Donald Trump since the special status of Jammu and Kashmir was revoked two weeks ago, Modi told Trump that “extreme rhetoric and incitement to anti-India violence” by certain leaders in the region was “not conducive to peace”. This was clearly aimed at Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan who has ratcheted up the rhetoric against India in the last two weeks.
Hours later, Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi told reporters in Islamabad that Khan, too, had spoken to Trump.
Over the last fortnight, Khan threatened to “teach Delhi a lesson”, told Pakistan’s parliament that “incidents like Pulwama are bound to happen again”.
“What will happen then? They will attack us and we will respond and the war can go both ways… But if we fight a war till we shed the last drop of our blood, who will win that war? No one will win it and it will have grievous consequences for the entire world. This is not nuclear blackmail,” he had said. In a series of tweets on Sunday, he called the Indian government “fascist”, “racist”, following “Nazi ideology” and accused it of “ethnic cleansing & genocide ideology”.
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Significantly, the phone call came as US-Taliban peace talks enter a crucial phase. Trump said he spoke to his “two best friends”, discussing prospects for improved trade ties with Washington and stressing the need to reduce tensions over Kashmir between India and Pakistan.
Spoke to my two good friends, Prime Minister Modi of India, and Prime Minister 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!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 19, 2019
And on the day Pak Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa’s term was extended for “another three years” in view of the “regional security environment”, according to an announcement by Islamabad Monday. Bajwa was due to retire in November this year.
After the conversation, the PMO statement said: “In the context of the regional situation, the Prime Minister stated that extreme rhetoric and incitement to anti-India violence by certain leaders in the region was not conducive to peace. He highlighted the importance of creating an environment free from terror and violence and eschewing cross-border terrorism without exception.”
The statement said the Prime Minister reiterated “India’s commitment to cooperate with anyone who followed this path, in fighting poverty, illiteracy and disease.”
A White House statement on Monday night said: “Today, President Donald J. Trump spoke with Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India to discuss regional developments and the United States-India strategic partnership.” It added: “The President conveyed the importance of reducing tensions between India and Pakistan and maintaining peace in the region. 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 statement did not mention anything about a bilateral dialogue between India and Pakistan which is different from the readout of the Trump-Khan phone call on Friday where the US President had conveyed to Khan about the importance of India and Pakistan “reducing tensions through bilateral dialogue” regarding the situation in Jammu and Kashmir.
By underlining the importance of a “terror-free” atmosphere, the Prime Minister has made it clear to the US President about the pre-condition for any bilateral dialogue between India and Pakistan. Last week, India’s envoy to the UN Syed Akbaruddin had said, after the UNSC consultations on Jammu and Kashmir, “Stop terror to start talks”.
A statement from the Prime Minister’s Office said that the conversation between the two leaders took place for 30 minutes. To put this in perspective, the bilateral meeting between Modi and Trump in Osaka in June on the sidelines of the G-20 summit lasted for about 35 to 40 minutes.
This was also the first call since Trump had suggested last month that Modi had asked for mediation on Kashmir, a claim denied by Delhi. Trump has back-pedalled on the issue since then.
The PMO statement said that the call covered bilateral and regional matters and was marked by “warmth and cordiality” which characterises relations between the two leaders.
Interestingly, the Prime Minister recalled their meeting in Osaka on the margins of G-20 summit in end-June earlier this year.
Referring to this, Modi expressed the hope that the Commerce Minister of India and the US Trade Representative would meet at an early date to discuss bilateral trade prospects for mutual benefit, the PMO statement said. In Osaka, the two leaders had discussed the issue of trade in detail, and they had agreed that officials and ministers will meet and resolve the issues. According to sources, the Indian side feels that the issues can be resolved between the two countries with a meeting between the two sides.
During the phone conversation, recalling that today marked 100 years of the Independence of Afghanistan, the Prime Minister reiterated India’s longstanding and unwavering commitment to work for a united, secure, democratic and truly independent Afghanistan, the PMO statement said.
It added that the Prime Minister appreciated remaining in regular touch with President Trump. The two leaders are scheduled to participate in the G-7 in Biarritz, France on August 25-26.
Meanwhile, in Pakistan, Bajwa, 58, who was appointed as the Chief of Army Staff by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif in November 2016, was “given another term of three years from the date of completion of current tenure,” read the brief notification issued by the Pakistan PM’s Office.
“The decision has been taken in view of the regional security environment,” the notification said apparently referring to the fresh tension in India-Pakistan relations and the ongoing Afghan peace talks between the US and the Taliban militants, facilitated by Islamabad.
Commenting on the extension given to the Army chief, Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said that it was essential due to the regional situation. Bajwa has served as corps commander of Rawalpindi.
On August 14, in his Independence Day message to the nation, Bajwa said: “Reality of Kashmir was neither changed by an illegal piece of paper in 1947 nor will any other do it now or in future.”