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Trump says he understands India seeking strong response after Kashmir bombing

New York  US President Donald Trump has said that there was a “dangerous situation” between India and Pakistan because of the terrorist attack in Kashmir and he “understood” why New Delhi is seeking a strong response.

He also hinted on Friday that Washington may also be doing something to defuse the situation.

New Delhi is “looking for something strong” and because India has lost almost 50 people in the Pulwama attack, “I can understand that also”, he said at the White House while replying to a reporter’s question about the situation on the subcontinent.

“A lot of people were just killed and we want to see it stopped. We’re very much involved in that,” he added.

“Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) openly admitted it was behind the February 14 suicide bombing of a Central Reserve Police Force convoy that killed 40 troopers.

“It’s a terrible thing going on right now between Pakistan and India. It’s a very, very bad situation… It’s a very dangerous situation between the two countries. And we would like to see it stop”, Trump said, according to a White House transcript.

Tellingly, Trump’s statements on the situation came in the presence of Chinese Vice Premier Liu He, just before their talks.

Trump did not give any details of any diplomatic efforts that his administration may be undertaking to de-escalate the situation or say if it related only to ending Pakistan’s support for terrorism.

He expressed frustration with Islamabad’s continued support for terrorists despite receiving US aid.

A Pakistani soldier watch movement of Indian forces along the Line of Control from a Chakoti post, 50 kilometers from Muzaffarabad, capital of Pakistani Kashmir on Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019. Pakistan’s foreign minister has appealed to the U.N. Security Council to draw attention to Indian threats of force in the wake of the Pulwama suicide bombing that killed many Indian soldiers in disputed Kashmir. (AP Photo/M.D. Mughal)

“Pakistan was taking very strong advantage of the US under other Presidents and we were paying Pakistan $1.3 billion a year. I ended that payment to Pakistan because they weren’t helping us in a way that they should have,” he said.

The US President, however, said that since stopping $1.3 billion in aid to Islamabad nine months ago, “we’ve developed a much better relationship with Pakistan over the last short period of time than we had”.

He said that he may be setting up some meetings with Pakistan, although it was not clear if it was in the context of the current situation or in general.

Trump and other top US officials have taken a strong unambiguous public stances against Pakistan in the terrorist attack, demanding that Islamabad end support to terrorists, and in support of India.

Speaking on his behalf soon after the attack, Trump’s Press Secretary Sarah Sanders had warned: “This attack only strengthens our resolve to bolster counter-terrorism cooperation and coordination between the US and India.”

Trump’s National Security Adviser John Bolton had also made an even more overt statement of support for self-defence.

In a call to National Security Adviser Ajit Doval earlier this month he said that he “supported India’s right to self-defence against cross-border terrorism”, according to the Indian External Affairs Ministry.

“He offered all assistance to India to bring the perpetrators and backers of the attack promptly to justice,” the ministry statement said.

Secretary of State Michael Pompeo had tweeted: “We stand with #India as it confronts terrorism. Pakistan must not provide safe haven for terrorists to threaten international security.”

In the past, the US has used its diplomatic prowess to calm things down in South Asia, but subtly without it seeming like mediation as India is against direct third party involvement. Then President Bill Clinton’s initiative during the Kargil conflict could be a roadmap for Trump.

When the two neighbours appeared to be on the brink of war in Kargil in 1999, Clinton launched a forceful diplomatic effort to prevent the situation from exploding.

He moved away from his predecessors’ traditional neutrality or tilt to Pakistan and required Islamabad to withdraw it troops from Kargil in return for US efforts.

Clinton met then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who went to Washington for help as he faced intense military pressure for war, and forced Pakistan to pull back the armed forces it had sent there.

Simultaneously, Clinton spoke on the phone with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee acting more as an interlocutor than a mediator.