HOUSTON (BLOOMBERG) – US President Donald Trump endorsed India’s need for “border security” at a rock concert-like event in Houston with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose government seeks to expand its control of the disputed territory of Kashmir.
The “Howdy, Modi” event held at an NFL football stadium on Sunday (Sept 22) was billed as a Texas-sized celebration of Indian-American ties. Mr Modi used it to rally his supporters, show off his closeness with the US president and take aim at India’s rivals, which notably include Pakistan.
Mr Trump delivered a speech that risks being viewed as siding with India in its dispute with Pakistan, two countries that he has offered to mediate between, though India has rebuffed the offer.
The US president pledged expanded military cooperation with India, talked about the need to fight terrorism – language that Mr Modi echoed soon after in an apparent swipe at Pakistan – and called for more border security, drawing huge cheers from the raucous crowd.
“Border security is vital to the United States. Border security is vital to India, we understand that,” Mr Trump said. He pledged to fight “radical Islamic terrorism” and insisted: “We must protect our borders.”
All of the lines drew cheers.
Mr Trump’s remarks followed a speech by Mr Modi in which he lavishly praised the US president. While Mr Trump did not explicitly endorse Mr Modi’s moves in Kashmir, which have inflamed tensions with neighbouring Pakistan, his remarks risk being interpreted in Islamabad as signalling US support.
Mr Modi in August scrapped seven decades of autonomy in the Muslim majority state of Jammu and Kashmir, prompting Pakistan to downgrade diplomatic and trade ties with India. Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said last week that India ultimately expects to rule over the entire state of Kashmir.
Mr Modi criticised “some people who are unable to manage their own country”, adding: “These people have put their hatred of India at the centre of their political agenda. These are people who want unrest. These are people who support terrorism and nurture terrorism.”
Without naming a country, Mr Modi rhetorically asked who was responsible for the 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai and the 2001 attacks in the US.
“You know them, very well,” Mr Modi said. “You know who they are. It’s not just you, the whole world knows who they are.”
The Mumbai attackers were Pakistanis, while several key figures in the Sept 11 attacks, including Osama bin Laden, were killed or captured in Pakistan.
At NRG Stadium, Mr Modi capped the event by warmly clasping Mr Trump’s hand and parading him for a lap around the stadium, periodically thrusting their clasped hands into the air.
Mr Modi’s speech focused mostly on domestic politics, but he also said the attendees were “witnessing the making of a new history”.
He thanked Mr Trump, and at one point invited the crowd to applaud him.
“I would like to reiterate the fact that President trump is firmly committed to fighting this battle against terrorism,” he said.
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