New Delhi: Donald Trump has set the cat among the pigeons by disclosing that India urged him to mediate on Kashmir with Pakistan. The US department of state has since returned to the settled position thus far that Kashmir is a bilateral dispute between India and Pakistan but significantly added that the United States would be glad to help. The Indian cabinet minister of external affairs denied that India had ever made the mediation request to Trump but neither the US president nor the Trump administration have denied the fact of the original “request”.

It has become a little like the Balakot airstrike. From one-hundred-and-fifty, the casualty figures put out here on the Pakistani side rose to two-hundred-and-fifty and then four hundred. When the international media and foreign diplomats posted in Pakistan could not corroborate the deaths or the targeted destruction, any mention of that was considered treasonous. The general election was won on Balakot. When an Indian military pilot was shot down and captured while reacting to an earlier major Pakistani airspace violation over Nowshera, it was put out that a Pakistani F-16 was downed in the retaliatory action. To this day, there is no trace of the downed fighter. The US says India never sought further information on the F-16 while an US audit showed Pakistan’s F-16 inventory intact. Add to this the fudging and concealment of economic growth and jobs data and you have on hand a serious credibility problem with the National Socialist regime in power.

Even if the US government were not explicitly to confirm the request for mediation which in the eyes of this writer is not a national crime but a sober assessment of ground realities, there is still the embarrassing matter of US presidential tape recordings to consider. Of and on, US presidents have taped their conversations with foreign leaders. Donald Trump especially leans in that direction although the US government will never admit of it. It did not admit to spying on Angela Merkel’s telephone even after it became undeniable. The US federal government has several snooping agencies. They go beyond obvious ones like the NSA. They are prosaically called “collection” agencies. When the US president wants things taped on US soil or overseas, it is of course easier. Often, the US president is taped without his authorization and obviously without his knowledge. This is the case when the president’s interlocutor is a tricky customer like Vladimir Putin who naturally mounts his own snooping if only to keep the record straight for posterity. And when the US president meets a foreign leader without aides, recording is the norm for future retrieval and examination. The “request” would fall in this category. To be sure, the US will deny any recordings. You might take that with a pinch of salt like all the other denials.

Nevertheless, this writer is sympathetic to the mediation “request” if made. The country has run out of options on Kashmir. Muscular policies, like everything else, are subject to the law of diminishing returns. If India has to grow at ten or twelve per cent GDP to eradicate poverty and become a genuine economic power, defence expenditure has to be rationalized and the standing army downsized. And this is only possible with a resolution of the Kashmir dispute.

It is useless pretending that Pakistan is not a party to the dispute possessing a chunk of Kashmir backed with deterrent weapons. Pakistan was at the lowest ebb when Imran Khan met Donald Trump in the White House. US-Pakistan strategic relations will resume because the United States cannot do without Pakistan’s military assistance in keeping such peace as is possible in Afghanistan. The link between Kashmir and Afghan peace has been made. Denials will not alter reality. The best solution is that the status quo is preserved in Kashmir where neither of the two disputant countries loses face.

But getting Pakistan to accept the status quo would require a negotiated settlement in which world pressure is brought to bear on Islamabad. You may call it international mediation or you may not. It amounts to the same thing. The issue should have been sorted out in the Simla Talks in 1972 but better late than never. Riding the nationalistic tiger will not assist the country. The ruling and opposition sides should be aware of this. Atal Behari Vajpayee would have settled for mediation and no one could accuse him of selling the country’s interests short. This is a time for great statesmanship.