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By John Helmer, Moscow

It appears that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his officials may have lied twice – the first time in February to deny they had discussed mediation in the Kashmir conflict with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov; and the second time this week to deny that Modi discussed US mediation with President Donald Trump a fortnight ago.

Indian officials insist they never ask other states or leaders for mediation, and don’t lie about it. What they mean by ask and what they mean by mediation are not quite so clear.

On the first occasion, February 27, Foreign Minister Lavrov said Russia was “ready to offer a negotiating platform for India and Pakistan to settle relations. If they want this, then of course.”  His Foreign Ministry spokesman, Maria Zakharova,  followed with a statement on March 1 that “we reaffirm our readiness to provide all-out support to the Indian and Pakistani efforts in countering terrorism.”

On February 27, Foreign Minister Lavrov met with China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi and India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj. In advance Swaraj told the Indian media that “with support from Russia, [she] will attempt for strong references to the Pulwama attack at the annual foreign ministers’ meet[ing]”. This did not materialize in the official communiqué. Instead, Lavrov made the remark on mediation which the Indians publicly repudiated.

Indian officials responded with a public denial that mediation had been sought from Moscow. Standing Indian policy since the Simla (Shimla) Agreement was signed in July 1972 is that the Kashmir conflict is a bilateral one and cannot be negotiated outside direct negotiations between India and Pakistan. Article One of the agreement includes the provision: “the two countries are resolved to settle their differences by peaceful means through bilateral negotiations or by any other peaceful means mutually agreed upon between them.”     

Lavrov’s statement followed a Pakistan-backed terror attack on February 14, when a suicide bomber from the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) group, headquartered in Pakistan, rammed a convoy of military reservists near Pulwama in Indian Kashmir. At least 46 were killed in the attack. The Indian Army and Air Force retaliated with ground and air attacks across the border on February 18 and 26.

The display of seeming Russian equanimity and neutrality between its Indian ally and Pakistan, long a US ally, produced open anger in the Indian media, and behind-the-scenes recriminations towards Moscow among senior Indian politicians, civilian officials and military officers. Read the story here. Sharpening the sensitivity of Prime Minister Modi at the time was that he was campaigning for the election due to run between April 11 and May 19; he was anxious not to show weakness militarily towards Pakistan or vacillation on the legal status of Kashmir.    

It now appears the Russians correctly understood that Modi was asking for something he didn’t call mediation – not only from Moscow but from Washington too. That was a cat Lavrov let out of the bag four months ago. What kind of cat, what kind of bag which Trump revealed on Monday this week with Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Imran Khan, depends on what the President was remembering, and what Pakistani and US officials preparing the exchange intended for the President to say. 

Source: https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/

In remarks  to the press on July 22 at the White House, Trump said: “I was with Prime Minister Modi two weeks ago and we talked about this subject and he actually said: ‘Would you like to be a mediator or arbitrator’. I said ‘where’, he said ‘Kashmir’. Because this has been going on for many, many years… I think they would like to see it resolved and you (Imran Khan) would like to see it resolved. If I can help, I would love to be a mediator. ”

Trump was referring to his meeting with Modi at the G20 summit meeting in Osaka, Japan, on June 28. This is the White House version of what was discussed then.   Modi had also met Secretary of State Michael  Pompeo two days earlier.

In this footage of informal meetings between Prime Minister Modi, President Trump, Trump’s  daughter, and the Indian External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar,  Modi’s conversation with Trump lasted for about 20 seconds; less with Ivanka Trump. Source: https://www.youtube.com/

The formal meeting between Prime Minister Modi, President Trump, Secretary of State Pompeo (right), and Minister Jaishankar (off screen at left). Source: https://www.indiatoday.in/

Modi and his foreign ministry have attempted to reinforce their denials with reporting by the Times of India here  and here.   The wording of the ministry denial emphasizes no “request” has been made. Indian reporters claim Trump was ambushed by Pakistani reporters in the prime minister’s entourage.  Indian opposition politicians told the newspaper that Trump had “cooked up” the record of Modi’s remarks in Osaka, and that Trump’s statement was “seen as fanciful even among American interlocutors”.

The new External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar (right) told the Indian Rajya Sabha (upper house of parliament) in Delhi on
Tuesday: “I would like to categorically assure the House that no such request [for Kashmir mediation] has been made by PM Modi. The Shimla Agreement [1972] & the Lahore declaration [1999] provide the basis to resolve all issues between India & Pakistan bilaterally.” 

A reliable source in Delhi clarifies that there was no mediation request from Modi;  and also that there has been active US mediation. “Modi has not and will not request mediation on Kashmir,” the Indian source says. “The US remains involved on several tracks. What happened [in February] was the following:  after the Pulwama attack, Trump, the Abu Dhabi Ruler [Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan], and the Saudi Crown Prince [Muhammad bin Salman] were actively involved in stopping the escalation of the conflict. There was a discussion between Modi and Trump. That was about deescalating Pakistani attacks on India after the deep [Indian Air Force] strikes on Balakot [February 26]. Modi said to Trump he was OK if Trump intervened and asked Pakistan to deescalate especially because Trump knew of, and asked Modi to delay by hours, a major Indian missile attack that was coming on a large number of Pakistani targets. Modi delayed; [Pakistan Prime Minister] Khan hastily agreed to return the [captured] Indian pilot and stopped air activity. That was the mediation initiated by the US and approved by Modi. That is all that happened.”

The source confirms the Russian role was not an offer to mediate. “Putin did not offer to mediate because he has no leverage with Khan. It is not conceivable Modi would ask the US or anyone else to mediate on Kashmir especially when they are cancelling Article 370 of the Indian Constitution [ refer ], providing for the special status of Kashmir and completing its integration in India. There will never be any mediation or intermediation by anyone on Kashmir. But if war breaks out, all the international players will have their chance to cool things. Modi is prepared to go very far militarily and is not waiting for anything. Putin has been careful not to involve himself in any of India’s external issues. I do not think the meandering nonsense of Trump reflects in any way on Modi.”

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