External Affairs

India Tells US It Is Interested in Only ‘Bilateral Redressal’ With Pakistan

The external affairs ministry has reacted predictably by dismissing Nikki Haley’s claim that the US will “find its place” in talks between India and Pakistan.

South Carolina governor Nikki Haley speaks at the 2016 Kemp Forum on Expanding Opportunity in Columbia, South Carolina, January 9, 2016. REUTERS/Randall Hill

South Carolina governor Nikki Haley speaks at the 2016 Kemp Forum on Expanding Opportunity in Columbia, South Carolina, January 9, 2016. Credit: Randall Hill/Reuters/Files

New Delhi: A day after the US ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley said that the Trump administration will “find its place” in talks between India and Pakistan, New Delhi  pointedly responded that it was only interested in “bilateral” talks with its neighbour, and that  the international community’s role was limited to persuading Islamabad to stop supporting terror groups.

On April 3, Haley told reporters at the UN that the US government would like to be part of the ‘de-escalation’ of tensions between the two South Asian neighbours.

“It’s absolutely right that this administration is concerned about the relationship between India and Pakistan and very much wants to see how we de-escalate any sort of conflict going forward,” she said. Furthermore, she added that the administration will “find its place to be part of that (de-escalation of tensions)”. Haley asserted, “We don’t think, we should wait till something happens”.

“We very much think that we should be proactive in the way that we are seeing tensions rise and conflicts start to bubble up and so we want to see if we can be a part of that,” Haley said at the press conference to mark the start of the US’s month-long presidency of the UN Security Council.

“So I think that will be something that you will see members of the National Security Council participate in but also wouldn’t be surprised if the president participates in that as well,” noted the former governor of the US state of South Carolina.

The Indian response, which came on the evening of March 4, was predictably dismissive. “Government’s position for bilateral redressal of all India-Pakistan issues in an environment free of terror and violence hasn’t changed,” said Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Gopal Baglay.

The reference to “bilateral redressal” was India’s way of reiterating that New Delhi saw no role for any third country in the India-Pakistan dispute.

He further asserted that the flow of terror from Pakistan had to be switched off as well. “We, of course, expect the international community and organisations to enforce international mechanisms and mandates concerning terrorism emanating from Pakistan, which continues to be the single biggest threat to peace and stability in our region and beyond,” added Baglay.

Haley is the first Trump administration cabinet member to articulate an aspiration to help reduce strains in ties between India and Pakistan. A recent profile in Politico had described Haley as US’s “leading voice on foreign affairs”, as secretary of state Rex Tillerson prefers to remain out of the public eye.

However, official sources here assert that her statement should not be taken as a considered pronouncement and a shift in US policy, as it was only in answer to a “leading question” posed by a Pakistani journalist.

While noting that Haley did give an answer of some length, the Indian official sources claimed that it probably showed her inexperience of the subject matter, since most US officials have assiduously avoided the topic in public, so as not to offend either India or Pakistan. At the same time, the sources pointed out that her remarks on Monday did not in totality call for formal mediation between the two countries.

This is not the first time that India had to field a question about the Trump administration’s intention to be more involved in the India-Pakistan peace-making.

In December 2016, the Pakistan government issued a press release about a phone conversation between prime minister Nawaz Sharif and the then US president-elect, where Trump had apparently said that he was “ready and willing to play any role you want me to play to address and find solutions to the outstanding problems”. In Pakistan’s context, “outstanding problems” is euphemism for its dispute over Kashmir with India.

The then MEA spokesperson, Vikas Swarup, had dismissed the Pakistani version of the Trump-Sharif conversation as “fantastic”, pointing out that the Trump transition team had not given such details.

But, it did not stop India from commenting that the “most outstanding issue of the outstanding issues is Pakistan’s continued support to cross-border terrorism”. “To that extent, we will welcome a dialogue between the US and Pakistan to resolve that issue,” Swarup added.

During the US presidential campaign, Trump had told the Hindustan Times that “if they wanted me to, I would love to be the mediator or arbitrator”.

A month later, Indian foreign secretary S. Jaishankar had pointed out that India had an “allergy” to any outsider involvement as a consequence of past history.

“…if you have an umpire who is constantly interfering, the game does not take its natural course. And when a game does not take its natural course, I think you end up with problems which then fester and increasingly become hard to resolve,” Jaishankar said, using a cricket analogy, on November 21.