Ever since their simultaneous birth in 1947, India and Pakistan have been at loggerheads. This antagonism has allowed foreign players lots of room to push their own interests by playing the subcontinental twins off each other.
Until the 1980s, India and Pakistan were caught between the two superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union. In today’s unipolar world, both nations are vying for Washington’s attention. Rather skilfully, US President Donald Trump seems to have convinced significant sections in both India and Pakistan that he is actually on their side.
This ability has been on full display since the weekend as Trump met both the Indian and the Pakistan prime ministers on consecutive days.
On Sunday, Narendra Modi addressed a rally for Indian Americans in Houston, Texas, at which Trump also made a speech. At the event, Modi went so far as to endorse Trump for the upcoming US presidential elections.
The response to this rally in India was ecstatic, being touted as proof that the United States was leaning towards India.
Ironically, as Trump met Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan the next day, there was great triumphalism from Pakistanis.
Pakistan’s the Tribune newspaper declared that “PM Imran in US on ‘mission Kashmir’”.
The Pakistan media made sure to highlight the US president’s offer (yet again) to mediate the Kashmir dispute. US mediation is one of Pakistan’s strategic goals in Kashmir even as India insists that the dispute should be solved through bilateral negotiations.
While the Indian media had highlighted the fact that Trump has spoken against Islamic terror in the presence of Modi, the Pakistan media emphasised Trump’s praise for Islamabad on countering terror in Khan’s presence. “I have heard they have made great progress and I think he [Khan] wants to make great progress,” Dawn quoted Trump as saying.
Trump offer to mediate in the dispute came in response to a question from a Pakistani journalist. While Pakistani media chose to highlight this statement, many Indian outlets chose to highlight the fact that Trump had criticised the journalist, burying the offer to mediate deep in their reports.
In addition, the Pakistani media reported Trump’s statement on Monday that Modi’s Houson rally was “aggressive”.
“Trump taken aback by Modi’s ‘aggressive statement’ against Pakistan,” read the Tribune’s headline.
On the other hand, much of the Indian media reported the exact same incident as an instance of Trump praising Modi.
This unusual situation of both India and Pakistan taking warmly to Trump, each convinced that he was batting for them, prompted some comment from foreign commentators.
The BBC ran an article pointing out to how social media in both India and Pakistan were running a “tweet battle” over who Trump’s actual favourite in South Asia was, Modi or Khan.
Turkey’s TRT ran a video exploring the same question: “Who is Trump’s better friend, Imran Khan or Narendra Modi?”
Micheal Kugelman, an American foreign policy expert on South Asia, explained the US president’s use of a little recognised but perhaps much-used strategy in international diplomacy: buttering up people.
In all of this, however, not everyone was taken in by the American president’s flattery. There was some South Asian cynicism with respect to Trump’s attempt at running with the hares and hunting with the hounds.
It was back to usual programming on Tuesday as Trump and Modi met on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, with the US president praising the Indian prime minister and the Indian media running it breathlessly.
Meanwhile, even as who Trump favoured more, Modi or Khan, was discussed threadbare, the that India and the United States were unable to reach any agreement on a trade deal was covered in far less depth by the media.