United States President Donald Trump, at a meeting with Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, on Monday, claimed Prime Minister Narendra Modi had asked him to mediate on Kashmir. This was in response to Mr Khan’s plea about how the Kashmir issue needed the intervention of the world’s most powerful state. Mr Trump said that Mr Modi, just two weeks ago, had asked him to be a mediator or arbitrator on Kashmir; that he would “love” to mediate if both sides wanted it; that there was a “terrible situation” in Kashmir and, if he could do anything, he would do it.
The remarks have caused understandable outrage in India. If this was true, it would have reversed decades-old Indian policy, which is completely against third party intervention on Kashmir. But in what has almost become a pattern with Mr Trump, they were not true. The ministry of external affairs responded immediately, and rightly, on Monday night. It rejected Mr Trump’s claim that Mr Modi had ever asked him to mediate. It reiterated Delhi’s policy that all outstanding issues must be resolved bilaterally between India and Pakistan, and engagement required an end to terror. The strong Indian response, and the fact that no serious South Asia observer in Washington — both inside and outside the establishment — could believe that Mr Modi would make such a suggestion meant that the State Department had to pick up the pieces. It issued a statement, which said that Kashmir is a bilateral issue, a nod to the Indian stand, but that the US would welcome both parties sitting down and is ready to help, which is meant to be a face saver for Mr Trump.
Mr Trump now has a record of disrupting the US’ most important relationships. He has antagonised Canada, Mexico, and key European allies. He has, unilaterally, walked away from the Iranian nuclear deal, bringing the world to the brink of war. He has upended the international economic order. And while there was hope that he would understand the value of the strategic relationship with India — especially since he was already taking on China on economic issues — Mr Trump has also opened a front with New Delhi. Over the past few months, he has ramped up pressure on trade and tweeted provocatively, in what can be only be construed as an effort to bully Delhi; and he has also jeopardised Indian diplomatic ties with Iran and Russia. India — taking into account the big picture and the value of the partnership, and Mr Trump’s personal traits — has been remarkably patient so far. But this time, Mr Trump overstepped. Kashmir is among India’s core interests. And while there is much Delhi can do to improve the domestic dynamics in the valley, for Washington to be economical with the truth, and attribute to Mr Modi what he never said, is unacceptable. The onus on repairing ties rests on Mr Trump.