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Trump tells India and Pakistan to cool tensions over Kashmir

Trump tells India and Pakistan to cool tensions over Kashmir

US president talks to leaders of nuclear-armed neighbours as war of words intensifies

Donald Trump has urged India and Pakistan to ease tensions over the disputed Kashmir region, amid a war of words about India’s nullification of the territory’s legal autonomy.

The US president said in a tweet on Monday evening that he had spoken to Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister, and Pakistan’s Imran Khan, and urged the leaders of the nuclear-armed neighbours to “work towards reducing tensions in Kashmir”.

“A tough situation but good conversations!” the US president tweeted.

But on Tuesday Pakistan showed little sign of dialling back the rhetoric in response to the US president’s comments.

Masood Khan, president of Azad Kashmir, the part of Kashmir under Pakistan’s control, said in a statement: “There were already 700 thousand Indian army troops in Kashmir before 5th August. Since then, 180,000 more soldiers have been brought in. Occupied Kashmir has been turned into a jail.”

Relations between Islamabad and New Delhi have deteriorated since August 5, when Mr Modi’s government revoked an Indian constitutional provision that gave Jammu and Kashmir the right to make its own laws.

In addition to cancelling the area’s special status, Mr Modi’s administration demoted the Muslim-majority region from being a fully-fledged state to a union territory, giving New Delhi strong control over the local government apparatus.

Kashmiris have been under lockdown since the announcement — communication links have been severed, movements restricted and political leaders detained — as New Delhi seeks to prevent public anger at the moves from spiralling into violence.

India’s consolidation of political control over Kashmir has riled Pakistan, which covets the region for itself, and has launched three armed conflicts — and backed a violent Kashmiri separatist insurgency — in a bid to prise the region out of New Delhi’s grip.

In a series of increasingly heated tweets over the past week, Mr Khan has likened Mr Modi’s Hindu nationalist government to the Nazis, warned of the risks of another “Srebrenica-type massacre and ethnic cleansing” of Muslims in Kashmir, and called on the international community to intervene.

Indian officials are furious, calling Mr Khan’s words “utterly reprehensible”.

“It is abominable that a leader of this stature will use this kind of language,” one top Indian official said last week. “A country that doesn’t even recognise the homeland for Jewish people, or acknowledge the holocaust is comparing us to the Nazis?”

In his telephone conversation with Mr Trump, Mr Modi said that “extreme rhetoric and incitement to anti-India violence by certain leaders in the region was not conducive to peace”, according to the Indian foreign ministry.

In a subsequent call with Mr Khan, Mr Trump emphasised “the need to reduce tensions and moderate rhetoric with India over the situation of Jammu and Kashmir”, the White House said.

It added that Mr Trump “reaffirmed the need to avoid escalation of the situation and urged restraint on both sides”.

New Delhi has said its moves in Kashmir were an internal matter of no business to Pakistan, because they had no impact on the line of control dividing the province between the two countries.

But India’s moves to change the legal status of Kashmir come at a sensitive time for regional security, with Washington in the final stages of protracted negotiations with the Taliban for an agreement to withdraw the remaining US troops from Afghanistan.

Mr Trump is looking to Pakistan to help broker the deal with the Taliban, for whom Islamabad has long provided patronage. That has given Pakistan some clout in Washington, despite the country’s dire financial and economic situation.

“In terms of optics, there is a certain immediate support for India,” said Happymon Jacob, a political-science professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University and author of a book on the India-Pakistan conflict. “But there is a larger strategic narrative unfolding that is not necessarily [of] advantage [to] India. People see their interests vis-à-vis Pakistan. There is precious little India can do for the international community vis-à-vis Afghanistan.”

During Mr Khan’s visit to Washington last month, the US president said that Mr Modi had earlier sought his help in mediating the dispute over Kashmir, a claim that New Delhi swiftly denied.

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