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The United States Can’t Solve the Kashmir Dispute

Why Trump’s Offer to Mediate Is Dead in the Water

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and U.S. President Donald Trump in the Oval Office, July 2019 Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

On July 22, during a White House meeting with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, U.S. President Donald Trump made a surprise offer to mediate the long-running dispute between India and Pakistan over Kashmir. “It is impossible to believe,” Trump said, “that two incredible countries who are very, very smart with very smart leadership can’t solve a problem like that. If you would want me to mediate or arbitrate, I would be willing to do it.”                                     

Even more surprising, Trump claimed that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had sought his intervention in the matter. For informed observers, this claim was hard to believe. And indeed, within hours of Trump’s statement, India’s foreign minister strenuously denied that Modi had made any such suggestion. More to the point, he reiterated India’s long-standing position that the Kashmir dispute must be solved through strictly bilateral negotiations between India and Pakistan. Modi, probably wanting to avoid implying that Trump was a liar, maintained a studious silence.

Trump’s offer, however ill-advised, was hardly the first U.S. attempt to intercede in Kashmir. Over the past six decades, successive U.S. administrations have tried to make headway on the dispute. Those efforts all failed—and Trump’s is unlikely to turn out differently.

INDIAS WAY OR THE HIGHWAY

India and Pakistan have both claimed Kashmir, a majority-Muslim region in the north of the Indian subcontinent, since the two countries’ partition in 1947. India has de facto control over about 55 percent of the region and the majority of its population; Pakistan controls around 30 percent and China the remaining 15 percent. The dispute over the region has led to three wars and countless skirmishes and stands as a permanent threat to stability in South Asia—one that is especially dangerous, given that both India and Pakistan are nuclear armed.

The United States first attempted to mediate the Kashmir dispute in 1962. China and India had just fought a disastrous border war, in which the Chinese People’s Liberation Army routed a poorly armed and

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