Fury in India as Trump claims Modi asked for Kashmir mediation
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Donald Trump (Screen Capture)

India's foreign minister was forced to issue a strenuous denial to an infuriated opposition in parliament on Tuesday, after US President Donald Trump said Prime Minister Narendra Modi had invited him to mediate in the bloody conflict with Pakistan over Kashmir.

While Pakistan has often sought third-party mediation in the decades-old dispute which has cost tens of thousands of lives, the idea is anathema to India, which has always insisted the issue can only be resolved bilaterally.

Trump set off a political storm in India by claiming during a meeting on Monday with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan in Washington that Modi had asked him two weeks ago to mediate in the Kashmir dispute.

"I'd like to categorically assure the house that no such request was made by the prime minister to the US president," Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar told the Indian parliament, barely able to make his voice heard over the opposition tumult.

Jaishankar insisted the conflict could only be settled bilaterally and that Pakistan had to end "cross-border terrorism" before any talks.

Trump's comments touched on one of the most sensitive topics for New Delhi.

India has disputed Kashmir with its neighbour since their independence in 1947. Both control parts of the former Himalayan kingdom, but claim it in its entirety.

They have fought two wars over the region and tens of thousands, mainly civilians, have died since an insurgency erupted three decades ago in Indian-administered Kashmir.

- 'Poles apart' -

Indian opposition leaders demanded that Modi make a personal statement to parliament to confirm that there was no change in New Delhi's longstanding policy of only direct talks with Islamabad.

Khan -- on an official visit to the United States -- stirred the controversy further by saying Kashmir could only be resolved with outside help.

"Bilaterally, there will never be (an end to the Kashmir conflict)," Khan told Fox News, adding that Pakistan and India were "poles apart".

"I really feel that India should come... (to) the table. The US could play a big part, President Trump certainly can play a big part."

Some US politicians quickly distanced themselves from Trump's comments.

Brad Sherman, a Democratic Congressman and member of the House foreign affairs committee, said he apologised to the Indian ambassador in Washington for Trump's statement.

"Everyone knows PM Modi would never suggest such a thing. Trump's statement is amateurish and delusional. And embarrassing," he tweeted.

The State Department also sought to calm the storm.

"While Kashmir is a bilateral issue for both parties to discuss, the Trump administration welcomes #Pakistan and #India sitting down and the United States stands ready to assist," tweeted Alice Wells, the Acting Assistant Secretary of the department's Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs.