Is Trump doing enough to resolve the India-Pakistan crisis?

Two nuclear powers, India and Pakistan, stand on the brink of war, and some in the foreign policy establishment don't think Donald Trump is doing enough to subdue the crisis.


As India and Pakistan descend into direct combat over violent attacks in Kashmir and subsequent cross-border reprisal, the U.S. appears unprepared to help defuse the situation.

The big picture: The India-Pakistan salvos mark the biggest international security crisis test of the Trump presidency.  But unlike his predecessors, who viewed conflict on the Indian subcontinent as an issue of paramount importance, Trump and his team have seemed content to lie low, or even to tacitly support India over Pakistan.

Between the lines: This approach departs from those of past administrations, which perceived military action between these two nuclear-armed neighbors as a potential precursor to nuclear war.

  • In 2001, for example, President Bush sent Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage to Islamabad for in-person negotiations around an India-Pakistan crisis that could have gone nuclear.  That trip built on nearly a dozen direct calls between Secretary of State Colin Powell and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to iron out the crisis.
  • Bush felt — as Trump appears not to — that the U.S. could not afford to sit out such a crisis, later referring to "the year that we had shuttle diplomacy to convince Pakistan and India not to go to war with each other."

To be sure, Trump has been busy: Currently, he’s meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Hanoi for the most promising denuclearization opportunity in years — this just after extending the ceasefire in the U.S.–China trade war and declaring a national emergency on the southern border.

Pakistan shot down two Indian warplanes on Tuesday and was holding one of the pilots.  India threatened reprisals if the pilot was not released.

Today, Pakistan agreed to send the pilot home.  This was shortly after Trump announced that the end of the crisis was near.


"They've been going at it, and we've been involved in trying to have them stop," Trump said.  "And we have some reasonably decent news, hopefully that's going to be coming to an end."

The idea that Trump isn't doing enough to resolve the crisis is ludicrous.  And while the danger has not fully passed with the release of the Indian pilot, tensions have definitely eased. 

That doesn't satisfy some establishment pundits.  Even though secretary of state Mike Pompeo has talked with the foreign ministers of both countries, for some, Trump is too "distracted" by his North Korea summit and the circus on Capitol Hill back home.

Rafia Zakaria:

On Tuesday, Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke to Pakistan Chief of Defense Gen. Zubair Mahmood Hayat and discussed the current tensions.  And Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke with his counterparts in India and Pakistan, urging them to "prioritize direct communication and avoid further military activity."

And while Dunford and Pompeo appear to have at least entered the fray — at least in words, President Donald Trump has remained largely silent.  Following the attack on Indian paramilitary personnel earlier this month, he said it was a "horrible situation" but that his administration would have a comment when "it was appropriate."  "It would be wonderful," the President added, if "India and Pakistan were to get along."

Indeed, it would be wonderful, but it seems unlikely, especially with the United States uninterested or unaware that it needs to play a key mediating role.  Trump, likely diverted by his ambitions in North Korea and by the continuing accusations of obstruction of justice and corruption against members of his campaign and administration, seems unlikely to arrange a Clinton-esque meeting in which he insists that the parties involved recognize the scale of devastation at play.

Pakistan and India don't "recognize the scale of devastation at play"?  That may be the most ignorant statement I've read on the crisis yet. 

I imagine that the steps Trump has taken pretty much mirror those of Bush.  If he needs to send a high-level representative to negotiate, he will.  But that Trump is sitting on his hands, or is unconcerned because he has other things going on, simply isn't true.  That Trump isn't publicizing what the U.S. is doing to stem the crisis doesn't mean he's washed his hands of it.

And if Trump is favoring India in this conflict, what's wrong with that?  Pakistan is no ally of the U.S.  We cut off aid to Islamabad last year because of the Pakistanis' continued support for terrorists who are killing Americans in Afghanistan.  The impetus for the current crisis between India and Pakistan was a car bomb that killed 40 paramilitary soldiers in Kashmir on February 14.  A Pakistani-backed terrorist group, Jaish-e-Mohammed, claimed responsibility.  Why shouldn't we side with India?

Trump's actions are perfectly in keeping with his worldview that the United States cannot solve all the problems of the world.  You can bet that the State Department is working overtime to do what it can to resolve the crisis.  But what can the U.S. realistically do?

About as much as Trump is doing now.

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