NEW DELHI: India’s foreign minister issued a strenuous denial to an infuriated opposition in parliament on Tuesday, after US President Donald Trump said Prime Minister Narendra Modi had invited him to mediate in the conflict with Pakistan over the disputed Kashmir region.
Pakistan has often sought third-party mediation in the decades-old dispute which has cost tens of thousands of lives, but the idea is anathema to India, which insists the issue can only be resolved bilaterally.
Trump set off a political storm in India by claiming during a meeting in Washington on Monday with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan that Modi had asked him two weeks ago to mediate in the Kashmir dispute.
“I’d like to categorically assure the house that no such request was made by the prime minister to the US president,” Foreign Minister S Jaishankar told the Indian parliament, barely able to make his voice heard over the opposition tumult.
Trump’s comments touched on one of the most sensitive topics for New Delhi, as Jaishankar insisted the conflict could only be settled bilaterally.
Indian opposition leaders demanded that Modi make a personal statement to parliament to confirm that there was no change in New Delhi’s policy of only direct talks with Islamabad.
Pakistani PM Imran Khan – on an official visit to the United States – stirred the controversy further by saying Kashmir could only be resolved with outside help.
“Bilaterally, there will never be (an end to the Kashmir conflict),” Khan told Fox News, adding that Pakistan and India were “poles apart”.
“I really feel that India should come… (to) the table. The US could play a big part, President Trump certainly can play a big part.”
The State Department also issued a statement.
“While Kashmir is a bilateral issue for both parties to discuss, the Trump administration welcomes #Pakistan and #India sitting down and the United States stands ready to assist,” tweeted Alice Wells, the Acting Assistant Secretary of the department’s Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs.