Trump's remarks to Sharif, if accurate, could aggravate hostility between Pakistan and India.
Relations between the arch-enemies have worsened following a September attack on an army base in Indian-occupied Kashmir. New Delhi blamed Islamabad for the assault and conducted what it called "surgical strikes" on suspected militants in Pakistan administered-Kashmir. From 1947-1999, the two nuclear powers went to war with each other four times in addition to other serious border skirmishes.
"The White House should use active, yet quiet, behind-the-scenes diplomacy to ensure that temperatures on both sides do not rise dangerously high," Michael Kugelman, senior associate for South and Southeast Asia at the Woodrow Wilson Center, said in a recent note.
Instead, Trump has made very public declarations of support to both sides.
During a Republican Hindu Coalition event last month, Trump said the U.S. and India would be best friends. "There isn't going to be any relationship more important to us," he added.
Last month, Trump also told The Hindustan Times that he was willing to play mediator in the decades-long conflict between the two countries. But that isn't likely to sit well with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government.
"India rigidly opposes outside efforts to help ease tensions with Pakistan. It fears that external mediation would invoke the Kashmir dispute, which New Delhi views as non-negotiable. If Washington proposes mediation, its relationship with New Delhi could suffer," Kugelman explained.
Modi was one of the earliest heads of states to congratulate Trump on his election win. In a Nov. 9 phone call, Modi said he hoped the two leaders would work closely to "take the India U.S. strategic partnership to a new height."
Instead of playing up both sides, the president-elect should be urging the two sides to hold regular dialogues on soft issues-from trade cooperation to educational exchanges-to promote goodwill, Kugelman stated. And during crisis periods, the White House should work the phones to warn both capitals against military escalation, Kugelman added.
"What remains to be seen, however, is if Trump's lack of foreign policy experience constrains his ability to oversee such delicate diplomacy."
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