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Manufacturing Islamophobia on WhatsApp

The Kashmir Monitor

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By Soma Basu

“Real or fake, we can make any message go viral,” BharatiyaJanata Party (BJP) President Amit Shah claimed in September 2018 while addressing social media volunteers in Kota, Rajasthan.

“It is through social media that we have to form governments at the state and national levels. Keep making messages go viral. We have already made a WhatsApp group with 32 lakh [editor’s note: that’s 3.2 million] people in Uttar Pradesh; every morning they are sent a message at 8 a.m.,” Shah was quoted by the DainikBhaskar, a Hindi newspaper.

 

The video is still up on BJP’s YouTube channel where Shah is heard saying how disinformation could spread to create “perception” and the importance of WhatsApp in that endeavor. And the BJP is more equipped to create such perceptions than any other party in India, with its large volunteer base and extensive resources.

Welcome to the Indian Ministry of Truth, where the ruling BJP, with the effective use of social media, is creating a “perception” and implanting false memories in Hindus, 70 percent of the Indian population, that they are under threat from a rising Muslim population.

This isn’t something new. What the BJP is doing in India using social media has also been done in various other parts of the world. Governments in Brazil, Spain, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and the Philippines are aggressively using social media for political propaganda, using disinformation and fake news.

Propaganda as a tool of power is nothing new, though the mediums have evolved.


“The most brilliant propagandist technique will yield no success unless one fundamental principle is borne in mind constantly and with unflagging attention. It must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over. Here, as so often in this world, persistence is the first and most important requirement for success,” wrote Adolf Hitler in Mein Kampf.

In 2012, Danielle C. Polage of Central Washington University held an interesting experiment. She tested whether familiarity with false stories would result in the creation of a false memory of having heard the story outside of the experiment. Participants were shown false news stories, each portrayed by the researchers as genuine. “After a five week delay, participants who had read the false experimental stories rated them as more truthful and more plausible than participants who had not been exposed to the stories,” a summary of the experiment notes.

“Participants who had previously read about the stories were more likely to believe that they had heard the false stories from a source outside the experiment. These results suggest that repeating false claims will not only increase their believability but may also result in source monitoring errors.”

A few elected BJP members of the parliament and legislative assemblies have been caught endorsing the “perception” that the Muslim population in India is a threat to Hindus.

More upfront versions of what they mean circulates on social media — specifically WhatsApp, an encrypted messaging platform used by more than 230 million people in India and according to Lokniti-CSDS Mood of the Nation (MOTN) survey, every sixth user is a member of a political WhatsApp group. This makes WhatsApp the most important tool of propaganda used by political parties in India.

Views that invite public censure or criticism if expressed on more open social media platforms such as Facebook or Twitter, are expressed freely on WhatsApp and why not? Unlike Facebook or Twitter, WhatsApp, with its encryption, gives a greater sense of privacy while nevertheless maintaining the veneer of some personal connection to friends and acquaintances. It also adds credibility of the sender to the messages, even if it comes tagged as a forwarded message. After all, why would your friend forward you a message if he knew it was false?

Recently, BJP spokesperson NalinKohli, in an interview with Mehdi Hassan of Al Jazeera, called Bangladeshi immigrants “termites.” On being cross-questioned, he defended himself by saying the “analogy was apt.” Kohli made sure he made a special mention of Indian Muslims as Indian citizens, as if they weren’t already.

This is interesting because on WhatsApp groups run by the BJP’s social media volunteers, who get addressed by the BJP’s president or followed by Prime Minister NarendraModi himself, all Indian Muslims are considered immigrants who have either come from Bangladesh or Pakistan and terrorists.

Kohli’s choice of words is menacing. This is not so different from Myanmar, where political leaders stirred up hatred against a Muslim minority by propagating a similar narrative that ultimately claimed the lives of at least 10,000 Rohingyas and displaced more than 650,000 people.

And this is also not different from the hate propaganda before the Rwandan genocide when the President GrégoireKayibanda declared: “Our party is concerned with the interest of the Hutu who have been dominated and scorned by the Tutsi who invaded the country. We have to be the light of the mass, we have to capture back the country and return it to the true owners. The country belongs to the Hutu.”


To understand how the BJP was manufacturing hate and to measure the extent of Islamophobia and hate speech on WhatsApp and the sources of such messages, I took a deep dive into more than 140 pro-BJP groups on the platform for a period of four months. Approximately a quarter of 60,000 messages that I analyzed quantitatively were Islamophobic and anti-Muslim.

From November 14 to February 13, 23.84 percent of messages shared in the groups were anti-Muslim, Islamophobic, and deeply inflammatory with an intent to create disharmony or feelings of enmity, hatred, or ill-will between Hindus and Muslims. Such messages have the potential to incite violence.

These messages portray all Muslim citizen of India as either terrorists or a community that is plotting genocide against the Hindus. Some of the major narratives pushed through social media include the following: Hindus are under threat (#HinduKhatreMeinHain); Hindus are becoming a minority in India; Muslims will kill Hindus and rape Hindu women if they become a majority in India; all Muslims support Pakistan; all Muslims are terrorists (#TerrorismHasReligion); non-BJP parties support Muslims and hence are anti-Hindu; and non-BJP parties support terrorism. Most of these narratives on WhatsApp are supported by fake and concocted news stories, fudged data and incorrect, out of context translations of the Quran.

A large number of these messages are conspiratorial in nature and provoke the Hindu majority in India to not just deny or deprive Muslims of their rights as citizens of India, but also cause loss of their life and property. Some of the messages called for outright war, witch-hunting of Muslims and “teaching them lessons” by violent means. Old videos of beheadings from Syria and Iraq were shared to support the narratives.

A little over 36 percent of the messages were political propaganda from the BJP and the party’s allies. While some of the messages contained fake news, incorrect data and figures, others were standard propaganda against the political opposition.

After the Pulwama attack on February 14, 2019, that claimed the lives of 44 paramilitary personnel, 41.19 percent of the messages were inflammatory and instigated people against a community, religion, profession or others. In this category, 23.64 percent of messages targeted Kashmiris, 32.72 percent of the messages were anti-Muslim and 43.63 percent of the messages were targeted against journalists, civil society members and celebrities.

The animosity against Muslims, cultivated over social media over a period of time, led to widespread attacks on Kashmiri traders in different parts of the country, trolling and abuse of Muslims and anybody who spoke against the culture of hate or stood against war, including the wife of one of the paramilitary troops killed at Pulwama.
Videos of Kashmiris being beaten up or harassed were shared routinely in the WhatsApp with messages inciting others to participate in the harassment and violence to prove their nationalism.

Phone numbers of activists, journalists, celebrities who were known to speak against human rights abuses in Kashmir, or India-Pakistan art and cultural exchange initiatives were shared widely and people were encouraged to call and harass them. Hit lists were circulated and also listed questions that could be asked of those called.
The ministry of information and broadcasting issued a circular to news outlets against disseminating “anti-national” content just after the Pulwama attack.

After nine days of widespread attacks on Kashmiris and Muslims across India, Prime Minister NarendraModi, an active Twitter user, finally said that “our fight is for Kashmir, not against Kashmiris.”

To know if there was hate speech against any other religion, I joined two groups each that were run by supporters of the AamAadmi Party (AAP), Samajwadi Party, BahujanSamajwadi Party, Trinamool Congress and RashtriyaJanata Dal. I also looked at a dataset of 80 pro-Congress Party WhatsApp groups. While propaganda and fake news are shared in all the political WhatsApp groups, hate speech and Islamophobia were unique to the pro-BJP groups. None of the groups observed shared anti-Hindu messages.

I joined the WhatsApp groups by messaging the phone numbers advertised by the district or state level political leaders. So, the nature of these groups, created specifically for the dissemination of party propaganda, is different from public WhatsApp groups, with searchable links.

The groups I joined were higher in the chain of WhatsApp groups and several members of these groups are BJP office bearers and allies. The information about their identity was gathered from not just their display picture, account information and WhatsApp biography, but also the pictures they posted after organizing formal events — on NetajiJayanti (January 23), Republic Day (January 26), Day of the Babri Masjid demolition (December 6), the day of Pulwama attack (February 14) and also on Hindu festivals. Several members of these groups described themselves as members of the BJP’s IT (information technology) cell or as BJP members of the legislative assembly.

Coding the phone numbers of the “significant” members and creating a map, I selected 50 WhatsApp groups in which one or more office bearers were present. This was my primary group for analysis, while I kept gaining insights from other groups that I was a member of.

I collected chats from November 14, 2018, to February 13, 2019, using WhatsApp’s export chat feature. There were more than 60,000 chats (11, 62,405 words) from these 50 groups. After cleaning my dataset by deleting good morning, good evening, pornographic, product marketing messages and personal messages, I was left with 20,641 messages. Of this, there were 7,351 text messages, while the rest were audio, video, images or website links.

There was a surge in messages after the terrorist attack in Pulwama. Due to the increase in hate speech post-Pulwama, I decided to analyze seven-day data, from February 14-21, 2019, from these groups separately. While the text messages were analyzed both quantitatively and qualitatively, the videos were analyzed only qualitatively.

This analysis, of more than 140 WhatsApp groups, is the the first known quantitative research that shows the extent to which hate messages, despite the illegality and the potential physical threat it poses to citizens of India, are being circulated in the groups by volunteers and members of the ruling party.

In 2014, the BJP came to power in India and there was a sharp jump in the number of hate crimes against minorities in the country. IndiaSpend, a non-profit data journalism initiative, has shown that between 2009-2019, more than 100 people were killed and 691 injured in a total 281 hate crime incidents and 73 percent of victims of these hate crimes were Muslims and other minority communities. The data reveals a sharp increase in the number of incidents after 2014 — the year the present BJP government came to power. Fifty percent of the attacks were on the pretext of cow protection, inter-faith marriages and alleged inter-faith conversions.

In 2017, Union Minister Jayant Sinha, a BJP member of parliament, congratulated men convicted for lynching a Muslim meat trader. In 2015, people accused of lynching Akhlaq, a Muslim farm worker, were commended by BJP members of the legislative assembly and offered highly-coveted contractual jobs in a public-sector company. One of the lynchers is even contesting the 2019 elections on a BJP ticket.

During my investigation, I found several members who were formally associated with the BJP and who hold party positions, in the WhatsApp groups I was observing. The role of BJP affiliates in the lynchings noted above has been reported widely by the mainstream media. But even as the BJP has weighed in publicly on blaming the platform, WhatsApp, for the lynchings, the culprits include its own party members. The government’s effort to hold meetings with WhatsApp representatives, to show its good intentions, is nothing but nonsense.

In March 2018, the United Nations held Facebook responsible for playing a “determining role” in fomenting racial hatred in Myanmar. “It has substantively contributed to the level of acrimony and dissension and conflict, if you will, within the public,” said MarzukiDarusman, chairman of the UN Independent Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar.

Social media is emerging as a powerful new weapon with great destructive potential, but will merely blaming the medium (in this case, the social media platforms) for the message solve the problem?

No, it’s not enough. With governments endorsing hate speech and the idea of “teaching Muslims a lesson,” who can step up to stop the hate?

(Soma Basu is an investigative journalist based in India. She researched Islamophobic hate speech on WhatsApp during her fellowship at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, Oxford University. Courtesy: thediplomat.com)


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Opinion

Curbs on Pakistan media?

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By Amir Zia

Is press freedom on the retreat in Pakistan? Are these the worst of times for those holding dissenting views in the land of the pure? Are visible and invisible hands out to gag the mainstream media?

Despite all the challenges of Pakistan’s struggling and flawed democracy, conservative orientation and deeply religious roots, its media is vibrant, diverse, bold and candid, encouraging those who raise the flag of dissent and non-conformity. It amplifies the voices of rights activists, ethnic groups, the oppressed classes and most religious minorities.

 

At the same time, however, sensational political statements and conspiracy theories usually take centre-stage on news channels and papers, at the expense of genuine issues faced by people.

This statement-oriented journalism is not the result of state or government pressure. It is, on the contrary, driven by the rat race of ratings, social media hits and a preference for news that sells. Despite these skewed priorities, Pakistan’s press, it would appear, is not in chains.

Absolute freedom of expression is a concept that is being defined and redefined by the evolving conditions in a country: A newspaper stall in Karachi.

Yet, of late, politicians, rights activists and media personnel say that there is an unannounced censorship at work and fear grips the media, as the number of ‘red lines’ continue to increase.

At the other end of the spectrum are those who claim that not only is the Pakistani media enjoying an unprecedented level of freedom, but that it also has a tendency to distort facts and shamelessly push various political agendas, present half-truths and, sometimes, spew lies. According to this school of thought, the media remains overwhelmingly sensational: fake news and toxic arguments on social media are an example of the ‘limitless’ freedom of expression in the country.

Between these two extremes, lies a middle ground. While problems do exist as far as press freedom is concerned, at the same time, misinformation is disseminated through various media platforms.

Absolute freedom of expression is a concept that is constantly being redefined, depending on the social, economic and political conditions of a country. A single yardstick cannot be applied universally.

Broadly speaking, there are two main yardsticks with which press freedom can be measured: historical and regional. The other, finer details vary from country to country and region to region.

Historically, press freedom has made huge strides in Pakistan since the country’s creation. Long gone are the days of the Press and Publications Ordinance (PPO) of 1962 that empowered the government to seize newspapers, shutdown media organisations and arrest journalists and editors.

The decade of the ’70s, which witnessed the dismemberment of Pakistan and the rise and fall of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto – our first and, so far, last civilian martial law administrator – proved far from ideal, despite the presence of a democratically elected government. Bhutto opted for high-handed actions against dissenting voices, from political opponents to poets, writers and journalists. But it was the former military dictator, General Zia-ul-Haq, who added more bite to the PPO in the 1980s, empowering the authorities to prosecute publishers if published news was not to the government’s liking. During the Zia era, censorship was tough, brutal and direct. His regime did not hesitate to lash journalists and put them behind bars.

After Zia’s sudden death and the return of democracy in 1988, the media started to open up. The notorious PPO was revised, but successive elected governments and various political, ethnic and religious parties continued to target the press and take high-handed action against newspapers and journalists. For instance, in his second stint in power, Nawaz Sharif used the might of state machinery to punish a critical media and arrest journalists.

Surprisingly, it was under General (R) Pervez Musharraf that the Pakistani media saw an unprecedented boom. The electronic media witnessed expansion, as he allowed private news and entertainment channels to open shop, while radio stations were also encouraged. At the insistence of Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, his information minister at the time, the military ruler also allowed cross-media ownership – a controversial decision that lead to the hegemonies of select media tycoons.

Ironically, the media liberalisation and openness eventually contributed to Musharraf’s own fall, during his confrontation with the judiciary. His half-hearted attempts to muzzle select media outlets during the peak of the lawyers’ movement proved lethal. The media contributed to destabilising his government.

After the 2008 general elections and to date, the media managed to guard its turf despite many ups and downs, taking on successive governments and mighty state institutions Some media organisations took a critical view of the Pakistan Armed Forces and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).

This resulted in an on- and off- tiff between the state institutions and some media groups, leading to the blocking of the transmission of select news channels and obstacles being placed in the path of newspaper distribution.

This impasse between state institutions and media groups was aggravated due to the non-implementation of libel and defamation laws. In the absence of legal recourse and an established code of conduct within media organisations, there was hardly any independent platform where an aggrieved party could turn for a fair hearing. The regulator proved too weak and politically influenced to carry out this task.

Yet the Pakistani media operates in a freer atmosphere compared to past decades. Yes, there are problems, obstacles and even setbacks, but the media has expanded its boundaries. Many subjects, once taboo, are now openly discussed and debated. There are hardly any holy cows left; be it the government or state institutions, all are under the microscope.

There are, however, cultural and religious sensitivities that have to be taken into account. Pakistani journalists operate in an altogether different world compared to their counterparts in Western Europe or the United States. Several social and religious issues, while kosher in the West, are either discussed in a hushed manner in Pakistan, or seen from a different perspective because of the country’s religious moorings and its semi-tribal and semi-feudal roots.

Similarly, as Pakistan remains engaged in its longest internal war, against terrorism, since 2001, and has hostile eastern and western frontiers, there are conflict areas where the media faces obstacles while reporting. Any state, faced by such internal and external threats, takes measures that may not be the norm in times of peace.

The Pakistani press is less jingoistic, more diverse and aggressive in questioning those in power compared to its counterparts in India – the world’s largest democracy. Pakistanis should be proud that while the Indian media overwhelmingly promotes the government and state narrative without questioning, the Pakistani media does the opposite.

Similarly, if the condition of press freedom in Pakistan is compared to its two western neighbours – Iran and Afghanistan – and the one in the north, our friend China, we stand head and shoulders above them all.

Out of more than 50 Muslim countries, including democracies such as Turkey, Bangladesh and Egypt, there is more freedom of expression in Pakistan. Its scorecard is also better than Far Eastern countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia as well as secular countries like Singapore and South Korea.

At the same time, however, the press still has a long way to go. While expanding boundaries of freedom is an endless business, the media should review itself critically and overcome shortcomings and unprofessionalism in its ranks. Only an objective, fair, balanced and factual media will be able to keep expanding its boundaries.

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Opinion

Muslimcook who saved life of Gandhi

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By Suhail Ahmad Wani

History is often a medley of versions of an event in the past, gradually embellished over time. We all know about the brutal TinKathiya system which was prevailing in Champaran district until Gandhi ji led the Champaran Satyagraha movement, under that system the tenant farmers were forced to mandatorily cultivate Indigo crops in three Katha of land on every twenty katha(one bigha) they owned. Since, indigo crops were poorly compensated by Britishers& European Indigo mill owners and in case of refusal to cultivate Indigo crops, farmer had to face heavy taxation. Farmers were force to leave under miserable condition. When Gandhi ji arrived at Champaran, the news spread like in the region like a wildfire and he was greeted by a large crowd of peasants at railway stations all along the way from Muzaffarpur to Motihari.

Since, Indigo mill owners and Britishers officials were aware about Gandhi’s leadership ability and capability to fight against atrocity and torture. They were also keeping a sharp eye on all developments.

 

The year was 1917, on the afternoon of April 15, thousands had gathered at Motihari railway station (in Bihar’s East Champaran) to wait for a man who was destined to lift their lives out of misery. It was 3 pm when Gandhi alighted at the station from a train coming from Muzaffarpur. He had come to probe the appalling conditions under which local farmers were being forced by the landlords to grow indigo. Nobody knew it then but this fact-finding mission would snowball into the first Satyagraha (policy of passive political resistance) that Gandhi would lead in the country and begin a new chapter in India’s independence struggle. According to the book (Champarankeswatantrasenani) during this visit, Gandhi got a dinner invitation from a British manager of an indigo plantation named Erwin. So Erwin told his cook, BatakMian, to serve Gandhi a glass of milk laced with poison. To ensure that this was done, he offered substantial inducements as well as issued threats of dire punishment. When the time came, the deeply patriotic cook did present the glass of milk to Gandhi, but also warned him of its contents and revealed Erwin’s sinister intentions behind it. DrRajendra Prasad, who would later go on to become India’s first president, witnessed the entire episode. While Gandhi escaped the assassination attempt to successfully lead the Champaran Satyagraha, the man who had saved his life had to pay dearly for it. Dismissed from work, BatakMian was thrown behind bars and tortured. His house was turned into a crematorium and his family was driven out of their village (SiswaAjgari, a hamlet near Motihari). With time, his act of bravery was erased from public memory, until 1950, when DrRajendra Prasad visited Motihari (the then-headquarters of an undivided Champaran). As India’s first president alighted at the railway station, he was greeted by a huge crowd that had gathered to welcome him. Just then, he witnessed a commotion near the entrance as a haggard old man tried to make his way towards him. Recognizing him instantly as BatakMian, Prasad walked up to him, hugged him and escorted him to the dais where he gave him a chair next to him. To the surprised and curious crowd, the President introduced the man sitting next to him as the person who had saved Mahatma Gandhi’s life. He then narrated the story of how the impoverished cook had turned down all kinds of inducements to poison Gandhi and faced brutal punishment as a result. Had it not been for BatakMian, Gandhi would have died, Prasad exclaimed, before wondering aloud what impact such a tragedy might have had on India’s independence. On learning about the hardships faced by the cook’s family, he also ordered the collector of the region to give 24 acres of land to BatakMian and his three sons as a token of appreciation from the nation. This incident seared BatakMian’s story into the memories of Champaran’s residents. However, nearly a century after the Champaran Satyagraha, his grandchildren are still waiting for the government to honour its promise. In 2010, after reading a report in the Hindustan Times on the plight of the family, then President PratibhaPatil had ordered the district magistrates of East and West Champaran to submit a report on action taken to fulfilRajendra Prasad’s promise. But thanks to government apathy, the move did not lead to any action.

BataqMian Ansari’s sacrifice which deserves a prominent place in the history of freedom movement of India, came to limelight only when freedom fighter Syed IbraheemFikri (Delhi) breleased his book written in Urdu (Hindustani Jung-e-Azadi Mein MusalmanoKaHissa) in 1999. But it was BatakMian’s patriotism, which did not allow his soul to serve the poisoned milk to Gandhi ji. So, he took the glass to Gandhi ji but revealed the conspiracy in front of Ervin, Gandhi Ji and Dr. Rajendra Prasad. Thus he saved the life of Gandhi ji who led the Champaran Satyagraha movement and changed the narrative of struggle for freedom of India. But BatakMian had to pay heavily for his patriotism. The manager put him in Jail and brutally tortured him. His house was turned into crematorium and later he and his family were forced out of village. What would bigger tragedy that this extraordinary Indian, without who India’s independence might not have been possible, has completely been ignored. Isn’t it tragic that today the man who killed Mahatma Gandhi is known to all but very few know BatakMian who saved the Mahatma’s life in 1917? The unsung hero BatakMian died in 1957. Today, the tombs of BatakMian and his wife lie unattended in the nondescript village of SiswaAjgari. His grandchildren live on a patch of land near the Valmiki Tiger Reserve forest and make a living as laborers

(The writer is a research scholar at University of Indore and can be reached at: [email protected])

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Trump Tries Cooling Tensions with Pakistan

The Kashmir Monitor

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By Michael D. Shear and Salman Masood

President Trump, who on Twitter last year accused Pakistan’s leaders of “nothing but lies & deceit,” welcomed the country’s prime minister to the White House on Monday in an effort to mend relations and seek help in ending the war in neighboring Afghanistan.

Seated next to Prime Minister Imran Khan in the Oval Office, Mr. Trump gushed about the prospect of improved relations and trade with Pakistan and said he expected that Mr. Khan would help negotiate peace in Afghanistan so United States troops could come home.

 

“There is tremendous potential between our country and Pakistan,” Mr. Trump said during a 40-minute question-and-answer session with reporters from both countries. “I think Pakistan is going to help us out to extricate ourselves.”

Administration officials believe pressure from Pakistan could push the Taliban into a permanent cease-fire in Afghanistan, though they acknowledged that promises of such help from the Pakistani government had failed to materialize in the past.

“Washington could be overestimating Islamabad’s influence over the Taliban. So there’s potential for disappointment,” said ArifRafiq, a policy analyst and commentator on relations between the two countries. “But, like Trump said, Pakistan is a ‘big country’ and important in its own right. It’s critical for Washington to maintain a long-term partnership with Islamabad and not cede the region to Beijing.”

Mr. Trump has repeatedly said he wants to withdraw American forces from Afghanistan and end the nearly 18-year war. But ties between Pakistan’s intelligence service and extremist groups in the region have long frustrated American hopes of a peaceful regional solution.

The president was more optimistic on Monday about Pakistan’s cooperation, even as he suggested that he always had military options if diplomacy failed.

“I could win that war in a week. I just don’t want to kill 10 million people,” Mr. Trump said, describing what he said were prepared military plans in Afghanistan. “If I wanted to win that war, Afghanistan would be wiped off the face of the earth. It would be gone in 10 days.”

Mr. Khan — once Pakistan’s star cricket player and now like Mr. Trump a celebrity-turned-leader — agreed quickly that seeking peace in Afghanistan was the better option.

“There is no military solution in Afghanistan,” Mr. Khan said. “If you go all-out military, there would be millions and millions of people who would die.”

With Mr. Khan by his side, Mr. Trump claimed that Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India had recently asked him to help mediate the seven-decade dispute between Pakistan and India over the Kashmir region, one of the world’s most sensitive flash points.

“I was with Prime Minister Modi two weeks ago and we talked about this subject,” Mr. Trump said. “He actually said, ‘Would you like to be a mediator or arbitrator?’ I said, ‘Where?’ He said, ‘Kashmir.’ Because this has been going on for many, many years. I was surprised at how long.”

Both countries have claimed the disputed region since Pakistan’s creation in 1947.

“If I can help, I would love to be a mediator,” Mr. Trump said Monday.

Mr. Khan appeared willing for Mr. Trump to play a role. But just hours after the meeting between the president and Mr. Khan, a spokesman for India’s Ministry of External Affairs denied that such a conversation between Mr. Trump and Mr. Modi had taken place.

“No such request has been made,” the spokesman, Raveesh Kumar, said on Twitter. “It has been India’s consistent position that all outstanding issues with Pakistan are discussed only bilaterally.”

In a statement on Monday evening, the State Department acknowledged that “Kashmir is a bilateral issue,” but added, “As the president indicated, we stand ready to assist.”

Mr. Khan arrived in the United States on Sunday, landing at Dulles International Airport in Virginia where a picture of him riding the airport’s people mover with other travelers caused a minor social media uproar about the lack of pomp and circumstance.

The prime minister received more of an official welcome on Monday at the White House, where Mr. Trump greeted him in front of the West Wing before a bilateral meeting and a working lunch.

Relations between the two countries have been strained for years because of Pakistan’s ties with extremist groups and its lack of cooperation with the United States’ campaign against terrorist organizations since the Sept. 11 attacks.

But Mr. Trump deepened the rift in January 2018. He tweeted that the United States had “foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid” and accused Pakistan’s leaders of treating American officials like fools and giving safe haven to terrorists: “No more!”

Three days later, Mr. Trump suspended security aid to Pakistan, shutting down the flow of up to $1.3 billion in aid each year with a demand that Pakistan’s government cut off ties with extremists.

American officials said last week that the president’s meeting with Mr. Khan was an attempt to repair relations between the two countries, though they said the Trump administration remained “cleareyed” about the continuing links between Pakistan and terrorist groups.

A senior administration official had told reporters that Mr. Trump appreciated Mr. Khan’s earlier statements that Pakistan would no longer be a refuge for terrorist groups. But the official said the United States remained concerned given that terrorist organizations — including Jaish-e-Mohammed, Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Haqqani network — continued to operate in Pakistan with the tacit approval of its national intelligence and military agencies.

Pakistan’s continued imprisonment of ShakilAfridi, a Pakistani doctor who reportedly helped the United States confirm the location of Osama bin Laden, also remains a sore spot between the two countries, officials said.

Mr. Trump said on Monday that he planned to press for the release of Dr. Afridi. A tribal court in northwestern Pakistan in 2012 sentenced Dr. Afridi to 33 years in prison after he helped the C.I.A. pin down bin Laden’s location by running a vaccination drive backed by the United States.

Former President Barack Obama’s administration objected strenuously to Pakistan’s treatment of Dr. Afridi, and Trump administration officials last week called upon Pakistan to release the doctor.

Mr. Khan’s visit to the White House was part of his first trip to the United States as prime minister as he tries to move beyond the diplomatic clashes with Mr. Trump.

A fiery, nationalist leader in Pakistan, Mr. Khan has been critical of Pakistan’s partnership with the United States in the past. He fired back at Mr. Trump’s tweets last year, accusing the United States of decades of failures in Afghanistan.

Mr. Khan has accused past Pakistani rulers of selling themselves short and kowtowing to American dictates. But before the meeting on Monday, Mr. Khan had said he wanted a reset in the bilateral ties.

In Pakistan, local television news networks gave breathless coverage to Mr. Khan’s visit. The prime minister’s address a day earlier to a rally of thousands of Pakistani-Americans in Capital One Arena in Washington was portrayed as a testament to the Pakistani leader’s popularity in the United States.

Before meeting Mr. Trump, Mr. Khan told his cheering supporters at the Washington rally that he had never bowed to anyone except Allah and would not leave his countrymen embarrassed or disappointed during the meeting with Mr. Trump.

But on Monday, Mr. Khan was far less confrontational, repeatedly praising Mr. Trump for his leadership. “He has now forced people to end the war, to have a settlement,” Mr. Khan said of Mr. Trump. “This is a critical time.”

Mr. Trump said he hoped Pakistan could help resolve the war so the United States could curtail its security measures in Afghanistan. He said that if that happened, the United States might restore some of the funding to Pakistan that he cut off last year.

“I think that Pakistan is going to be a very big help,” the president said, adding later: “I think Pakistan will save millions of lives in Afghanistan. As of this moment, they are working very hard.”

(nytime.com)

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