India on Tuesday denied that Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked U.S. President Donald Trump to mediate the decades-long Kashmir conflict with Pakistan, emphasizing that third-party involvement is unnecessary.
Trump made the claim on Monday while speaking from the Oval Office where he hosted Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan. The president said that during a meeting two weeks ago Modi had asked, “‘Would you like to be a mediator, or arbitrator?’” on Kashmir.
Raveesh Kumar, India’s foreign ministry spokesman, responded: “We have seen President Trump’s remarks to the press that he is ready to mediate, if requested by India and Pakistan, on the Kashmir issue. No such request has been made by Prime Minister to the U.S. President.”
Kumar added: “It has been India’s consistent position that all outstanding issues with Pakistan are discussed only bilaterally. Any engagement with Pakistan would require an end to cross border terrorism.”
India and Pakistan divided Muslim-majority Kashmir after their independence in 1947, but both claim it in its entirety. An insurgency on the Indian side over the past three decades has left more than 70,000 dead, mainly civilians.
“I honestly don’t think Trump has the slightest idea of what he’s talking about,” Shashi Tharoor, a senior politician from India’s main opposition Congress party, said on Twitter. “He has either not been briefed or not understood what Modi was saying or what India’s position is on 3rd-party mediation.”
Trump said he “was surprised at how long” the Kashmir conflict has festered. “If I can help, I would love to be a mediator,” said the president, who prides himself on being a dealmaker. “Right now there’s just bombs all over the place. They say everywhere you go you have bombs and it’s a terrible situation… If I can do anything to help that, let me know.”
Khan gave a thumbs-up supportive of the idea. “You will have the prayers of over a billion people if you can mediate and resolve this issue,” he said.
The Indian government accuses Pakistan of supporting the rebels, while Islamabad says it provides only moral and diplomatic backing to Kashmiris demanding self-determination.
India and Pakistan have fought two of their three full-scale wars over the Himalayan region and barely escaped another one in February when they launched cross-border airstrikes at each other, sending tensions to the highest level since both obtained nuclear weapons. Air force involvement followed a Feb. 14 suicide bombing claimed by the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) group—but perpetrated by a local separatist—that killed 40 troops in India-Occupied Kashmir.
Since then, both nations stepped back from the brink but violence still occurs regularly in Kashmir. In early July Pakistan’s military accused India of killing five soldiers in a blast along the de facto border. Among unrest the month before, India’s Central Reserve Police Force said militants attacked a patrol, killing three of the paramilitaries.