Recently, US President Trump stirred up a controversy with his offer to mediate between India and Pakistan on Kashmir. Ever since the partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947, the region has remained in limbo, with India controlling 55% of it, Pakistan 30% and China around 15%. Several wars have been fought over this issue and it threatens the stability of South Asia as both India and Pakistan are nuclear powers.

Making the offer during a press conference alongside Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan, Trump announced that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had asked him to facilitate such negotiations. Trump said, “I was with Prime Minister Narendra Modi two weeks ago [on the sidelines of the G20 meeting in Osaka, Japan] and we talked about this subject and he actually said, ‘Would you like to be a mediator or arbitrator?’ [and] I said, ‘Where?’. He said, ‘Kashmir’.”

But when he said that he “would love to be a mediator,” the US president probably did not realize that breaking the ice may not easy in this case. Even the United Nations has not been able to provide a satisfactory solution for Kashmir in seven decades. For sure, Washington’s involvement could be beneficial but mediation can only take place if both sides are willing.

Almost immediately, India denied that Modi had asked Trump to mediate on Kashmir, and there was an uproar in the country’s parliament after the news. But again this week, Trump was asked by reporters whether his offer to mediate on Kashmir had been accepted by both parties. Trump said that “It’s really up to Prime Minister Modi [to accept the offer of mediation].” Therefore, it does look like this topic was discussed by the two leaders, no matter what India’s public stance is.

Washington’s involvement could be beneficial but mediation can only take place if both sides are willing

Apparently, while Pakistan would welcome the opportunity, India would not even consider the option as it refuses to recognize Kashmir as an international dispute. Instead, it stresses that it is a bilateral issue between both neighbors. Considering that India is an important strategic ally, it seems unlikely that the US would want to upset it. Understandably, the US State Department has officially stated that it believes the Kashmir dispute is a “bilateral” issue between India and Pakistan.

Nevertheless, there may be several reasons why this important offer was made.

Firstly, it is possible that the offer was made to reciprocate Pakistan’s help in resolving the 16-year-long war in Afghanistan. As the US elections are getting closer, Trump would like to wind up the Afghanistan scenario successfully and bring his country’s troops home. To achieve this end, Pakistan is considered important as it exerts some influence there. Settling the Kashmir issue might be a way of showing appreciation for Pakistan’s facilitation of talks between the various stakeholders in Afghanistan.

Secondly, it is not like both the South Asian nations have never benefited from US mediation before. Be it the Indus Water Treaty to solve their water-sharing problems or the resolution of the Kargil conflict, Washington always played a key role in addressing bilateral issues in the past. Even recently, when Pakistan captured an Indian spy and its courts condemned him to death, both countries accepted the ruling of the International Court of Justice on the bilateral matter. In fact, at times a third party arbitration improves the chances of bilateral issues being resolved sorted.

Thirdly, just like Afghanistan, there can be no military solution to Kashmir. The only practical and lasting way out is through the ballot. But to reach that point, the people of Kashmir would have to be given their right of self-determination as provided to them according to the UN Charter of Human Rights. Closer ties with New Delhi these days could make it easier for Washington to influence it on Kashmir.

In fact, this would not be the first time the US has tried to solve the Kashmir conundrum but all efforts in the past failed. While Pakistan was America’s ally during the Cold War, India sided with the Soviet Union and never really trusted Washington’s overtures.

Apparently, in the Simla Agreement between Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi and Pakistani president Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1972, it was decided that the two countries would “settle their differences by peaceful means through bilateral negotiations.” Ever since then, New Delhi has insisted that all future negotiations on Kashmir would be bilateral. As Rajeshwari Krishnamurthy from the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies in Delhi says, Modi cannot ask for US intervention as that would mean that India is “changing its policy on third-party involvement entirely,  and turning it on its head.”

Consequently, New Delhi rejects any mediation and even backdoor channels might not work as US-India relations are facing a few challenges these days.

Not only has New Delhi decided to go ahead with its purchase of the S-400 missile from Moscow even though it is Washington’s strategic ally, there were also some tensions over its oil trade with Iran coming under US sanctions. As India considers Iran strategically important, this move diverges from its foreign policy. And to make matters worse, the US has sought Pakistan’s help in unraveling the mess in Afghanistan instead of India.

Also read: Hopes for peace follow Trump-Khan meeting