Trump hints at “de-escalation” between India and Pakistan

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US President Donald Trump said there would be some “reasonably decent news” on the ongoing conflict between India and Pakistan, a day after the nuclear powers both downed enemy jets and Pakistan captured an Indian pilot.

The US, China and other world powers urged restraint from the two nations as tensions escalate following tit-for-tat airstrikes in the wake of a suicide car bombing that killed at least 40 Indian paramilitary police in Indian-controlled Kashmir on Febuary 14.

Indian and Pakistani troops briefly traded fire along the contested Kashmir border on Thursday. Speaking at a press conference Trump said the US had been mediating between the two sides.

“They have been going at it and we have been involved in trying to have them stop,” Trump said.

“We have been in the middle trying to help them both out.”

On Thursday India Prime Minister Narendra Modi told a rally India would unite against its enemies.

“The world is observing our collective will. It is necessary we shouldn’t do anything that allows our enemy to raise a finger at us,” he said, in his first remarks since the downing of aircraft on Wednesday.

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan called for talks between the two nations.

Pakistan and India fought three wars since independence from British colonial rule in 1947, two over Kashmir and went to the brink of a fourth in 2002 after a Pakistani militant attack on India’s parliament.

Pakistan shut its airspace, forcing commercial airlines to reroute. Thai Airways International announced it had cancelled flights to Pakistan and Europe leaving thousands of passengers stranded in Bangkok.

On Thursday morning troops from India and Pakistan briefly exchanged fire in Poonch, a district in Indian-occupied Kashmir, according to an Indian Army statement.

“The Indian army retaliated strongly and effectively,” said Lieutenant Colonel Devender Anand, a defence ministry spokesman.

The firing which India claims was initiated by Pakistan and lasted for a little over an hour was less elevated than the artillery fire exchanged on Wednesday.

Pakistan said firing began overnight.

“Firing continued in intervals throughout the night. It was moderate. Even now it’s continuing,” said Shaukat Yusufzai, an administration official in the Pakistan-controlled part of Poonch.

One man was hospitalised after being hit by shrapnel, he added.

India is building more than 14,000 bunkers for families in Jammu and Kashmir state close to the border, hoping to keep them safe near their homes rather than evacuate them.

On Wednesday evening India’s foreign ministry handed a dossier to Pakistan it claimed detailed camps of the Paskistan-based militant group that carried out the February 14 attack.

With a general election due in India by May, an upsurge in nationalism from any conflict with Pakistan could become a key factor, potentially favouring Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Late on Wednesday B.S. Yeddyurappa, a BJP leader in the southern state Karnataka, said India’s strike inside Pakistani territory would help the party to win back power in the state – the first such comment from a member of the ruling party.

“This has brought a pro-Modi wave through the country,” he told reporters. “The effect will be seen in the elections.”

INTERNATIONAL CONCERN

The latest escalation marks a sudden deterioration in relations between the two countries. As recently as November, Pakistan leader Khan spoke of “mending ties” with India.

The White House urged “both sides to take immediate steps to de-escalate the situation.”

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke separately with the foreign ministers of India and Pakistan and urged them to “prioritise direct communication and avoid further military activity”.

Pakistan’s envoy to the United States, Asad Majeed Khan, said Islamabad would like to see the Trump administration play a more active role in easing the crisis.

At the same time, he said the lack of US condemnation of India’s strike on Pakistan was “construed and understood as an endorsement of the Indian position and that emboldened them even more”.

China, the European Union and other countries also called for restraint. Japan’s foreign minister said the country was concerned about the “deteriorating situation”.

The Chinese government’s top diplomat, State Councillor Wang Yi, spoke by telephone with Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and expressed “deep concern”, China’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

The United States, Britain and France proposed the United Nations Security Council blacklist Masood Azhar, the head of Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad, the group that claimed responsibility for the February 14 attack. China is likely to oppose the move.

FLIGHTS CANCELLED

Thai Airways said it cancelled more than a dozen flights to Europe due to Pakistan’s move, along with all flights to and from the country.

Several airlines including Emirates and Qatar Airways, suspended flights to Pakistan on Wednesday, while others including Singapore Airlines and British Airways rerouted flights.

Singapore Airlines said all its Europe-bound flights would continue as planned, avoiding the affected airspace as necessary.

Flights from the Middle East and India were also affected. Air Canada has temporarily suspended service to India.