(Bloomberg) — Donald Trump found himself drawn deeper into a decades-long dispute between India and Pakistan over the Kashmir region on Monday, as Pakistan’s prime minister expressed frustration about a rally his Indian counterpart staged with the U.S. president a day earlier.
Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan said that he intended to privately discuss Kashmir with Trump, after the president’s participation in the Houston rally on Sunday with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. But journalists asked Khan and Trump about it ahead of a meeting on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.
“So I was going to say that, when you’re supposed to meet Narendra Modi, now I would have asked you to at least lift the siege,” he told Trump. “It’s a huge humanitarian crisis taking place.”
The Houston rally, called “Howdy, Modi,” gave Modi the opportunity to demonstrate his rapport with Trump, whom he endorsed to tens of thousands of Indian-Americans who attended. But Modi also drew Trump into offering tacit support for the Indian leader’s moves to expand his country’s authority over the parts of Kashmir it controls. India and Pakistan, which both possess nuclear weapons, have fought two major wars over the territory and regularly skirmish across the Line of Control that divides it.
“Border security is vital to the United States. Border security is vital to India, we understand that,” Trump said at the Houston event. He pledged to fight “radical Islamic terrorism” and insisted: “We must protect our borders.”
In a speech that followed Trump’s remarks, Modi obliquely criticized Pakistan and accused it of harboring terrorists, then assured the crowd that Trump was committed to fighting terrorism.
Trump indicated on Monday that he had been surprised. “I didn’t know I was going to hear that statement, I would say. I heard a very aggressive statement yesterday,” though he didn’t specify which of the Indian prime minister’s remarks he was referring to.
Modi charged at the Houston event that “people have put their hatred of India at the center of their political agenda,” without naming Pakistan. “These are people who want unrest. These are people who support terrorism and nurture terrorism.”
He rhetorically asked who was responsible for the 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai and the 2001 attacks in the U.S. “You know them, very well,” Modi said. “You know who they are. It’s not just you, the whole world knows who they are.”
The Mumbai attackers were Pakistanis, while several key figures in the Sept. 11 attacks, including Osama bin Laden, were killed or captured in Pakistan.
Modi in August scrapped seven decades of autonomy in the Muslim-majority state of Jammu and Kashmir, prompting Pakistan to downgrade diplomatic and trade ties with India. Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said last week that India ultimately expects to rule over the entire state of Kashmir.
Khan said in his meeting with Trump that “8 million people are under siege by 900,000 troops” in Kashmir and “that this is the beginning of a crisis.
“I honestly feel that this crisis is going to get much bigger, what is happening in Kashmir,” he said.
The U.S. has a responsibility to help defuse it, he said.
“Just the fact that the position of the United States — it’s the most powerful country, it can affect the United Nations Security Council, it has a voice, so we look to the U.S. to put out flames in the world,” he said.
Trump said of Kashmir that “I’d like to see everything work out, I want it to be humane, I want everybody to be treated well.”
–With assistance from Archana Chaudhary.
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