August 20, 2019
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Trump pursues closer ties with Pakistan

Alfonso Fernandez

Washington, Jul 22 (efe-epa).- US President Donald Trump welcomed Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan to the White House on Monday with a call for improved bilateral relations.

Trump praised Islamabad's contribution to efforts toward peace in Afghanistan and offered his services as mediator in the seven-decade-long dispute between India and Pakistan over Kashmir.

"You know, there are over a - over a billion-and-a-quarter people in the subcontinent. They are held hostage to the issue of Kashmir. And I feel that only the most powerful state, headed by President Trump, can bring the two countries together," Khan said in the Oval Office in response to a reporter's question.

"From my point, I can tell you, we have tried our best. We've made all overtures to India to start dialogue, resolve our differences through dialogue. But unfortunately, we haven't made headways as yet," Pakistan's leader said.

"If I can help, I would love to be a mediator," Trump said. "It shouldn't be - I mean, it's impossible to believe two incredible countries that are very, very smart, with very smart leadership, can't solve a problem like that. But if you want me to mediate or arbitrate, I would be willing to do that."

The Indian government has some 700,000 troops in its part of Kashmir, a Muslim-majority region whose then-ruler declined to join Pakistan, founded as a state for Muslims, when the subcontinent was partitioned in 1947.

A portion of the region came under the control of Islamabad and Kashmir remains divided into Indian and Pakistani sectors.

The two nuclear-armed neighbors have waged three wars over Kashmir and were seemingly on the verge of a fourth in 1999 after a sustained Pakistani incursion into Indian territory.

The president said that during a recent meeting, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had also asked about US willingness to broker negotiations over Kashmir.

Shortly after Trump's comments were reported, however, a spokesman for the Indian foreign ministry, Raveesh Kumar, denied that Modi made any such request and reiterated New Delhi's traditional opposition to any third-party involvement in Kashmir, where more than 70,000 people have died in political strife since 1989.

Pakistan, along with many Kashmiris, calls on India to comply with a 1948 United Nations resolution urging that residents be allowed to vote to determine the region's status.

Amid the talk of Kashmir, mending frayed bilateral ties was the main motivation behind Khan's visit to Washington, his first since taking office in August 2018.

Trump suspended $1.3 billion in annual US aid to Pakistan last year, accusing Islamabad of engaging in "subversive" behavior regarding Afghanistan and broader American interests in the region.

"I don't think Pakistan respected the United States. I don't think Pakistan respected its presidents. And I think Pakistan could have done a lot. I think Pakistan can do tremendous amount against - with respect to Afghanistan," Trump said Monday.

But he added that under Khan, Pakistan is "working very hard and very nicely, and we appreciate it."

"I think Pakistan is going to make a big difference. I think Pakistan will save millions of lives in Afghanistan because I really believe that they can - they have a power that other nations don't have with respect to Afghanistan," the president said.

Khan, a hero in Pakistan for leading the national team to victory in the 1992 Cricket World Cup, arrived in Washington less than a week after his government arrested Hafiz Saeed, accused by India and the US of masterminding the terrorist attacks that left 166 people dead in the Indian metropolis of Mumbai in 2008. EFE

afs/dr

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