Washington, July 22 (Dawn): Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan met with US President Donald Trump in the Oval Office of the White House. “Pakistan is helping us a lot now on Afghanistan,” Trump said.
The US President also offered to intercede to improve strained relations between Pakistan and India.“If I can help, I would love to be a mediator,” Trump said.”If I can do anything to help, let me know,” he added.
On resuming aid to Islamabad the President said that it could be restored depending on the kind of understanding reached between the two leaders.
President Trump said that the US is willing to invest in Pakistan and sees great trade opportunities here.
In reply to a question on whether he would ever go to Pakistan, which he had described as a “wonderful country”, Trump joked that while he hadn’t been invited by PM Imran yet, he would “love to” visit one day.
No Military Solution in Afghanistan
Prime Minister Imran told reporters that there was only one solution for Afghanistan and remarked that a peace deal with the Taliban was closer than it had ever been.
“This is the closest we have ever come,” he said, saying he agreed with Trump that a military ‘solution’ to the Afghan war would result in a catastrophic loss of lives.
Imran Khan said he hoped that in the coming days, “we will be able to urge the Taliban to talk with the Afghan government and come to a political solution”, a point that was promptly appreciated by Trump — who noted that Pakistan had helped tremendously in recent weeks.
Meanwhile, the senior military leadership, including Chief of Armed Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa and Inter-Services Intelligence chief Lt Gen Faiz Hameed, also arrived at the White House for delegation-level talks.
Ahead of the meeting, US Senator Lindsey Graham, who by some accounts has been instrumental in arranging the meeting, tweeted the following:
“Great meeting with the PM of Pakistan, Imran Khan. In my opinion he and his government represent the best opportunity in decades to have a beneficial strategic relationship the US. This will help us secure Afghanistan and the region long-term.”
Graham also spoke of tremendous business opportunities exist between Pakistan and the US through a free trade agreement tied to our mutual security interests. “It’s also our best chance in decades to reset the relationship between the US and Pakistan.”
Agenda of the meeting
In his first visit to the White House since assuming office, Prime Minister Imran could expect to hear demands from Trump, who in the past has accused Pakistan of lying and being duplicitous.
On his end, Prime Minister Imran hopes to make a forceful case for Pakistan’s interests. Addressing a rally in Washington DC yesterday, he had said: “I have never bowed before anyone, and I will never let my nation bow either.”
The goal of the visit, according to a senior Trump administration official, is “to press for concrete cooperation from Pakistan to advance the Afghanistan peace process.”
US and Pak Interests Vary
The Trump administration also wants to encourage Pakistan to “deepen and sustain its recent effort to crack down on militants and terrorists within its territory”, the official said on condition of anonymity.
“We are concerned about the links between these groups and Pakistan’s intelligence services and military,” the administration official said, referring to Jaish-e-Mohammed, Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Haqqani network. Pakistan denies providing support to militant groups and argues that, in fact, it has sustained huge losses in terms of lives and money as it fights extremism.
“One of the big storylines going into the Trump-Khan meeting is the sharp disconnect in expectations,” said Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia Program at The Wilson Center.
“Pakistan wants to use the meeting as an opportunity to reset and broaden the relationship. The US has a more narrowly defined goal of securing more assistance from Pakistan for the Afghanistan peace process,” said Kugelman.
Trump, a property developer turned reality TV star, and PM Imran, World Cup-winning captain of the Pakistan cricket team, both came to office after achieving fame away from politics and the personal chemistry between the two may be decisive.
“A lot will depend on the kind of mood that President Trump and indeed Prime Minister Imran Khan find themselves in,” said Farzana Sheikh, an associate fellow at the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London. “Neither of them is known to be particularly predictable.”
In an editorial on Imran’s visit, the Dawn of Karachi says: “Ties with the United States are amongst the most tortuous — and important. Tortuous because ever since the defeat of the Soviets in Afghanistan, Islamabad and Washington have drifted far apart on a number of issues, with many in this country feeling that the US abandoned Pakistan after it gave the Soviets a bloody nose in the Afghan jihad.”
“Yet the relationship is important as despite the upheaval in global politics, the US remains an economic and military superpower — one that Pakistan cannot afford to have hostile ties with. Currently, the relationship can certainly use much tweaking, and perhaps that is what Prime Minister Imran Khan plans to do as he begins his visit to Washington.”
“To be sure, the optics are quite odd, as along with other officials, Mr Khan has also included the army chief and the ISI head in the delegation. This may be one of the rare occasions where a head of government is accompanied by the country’s army chief in the meeting with the US president.”
“Some in Washington may interpret this as weakness on part of the civilian government, while others will ask if Mr Khan has his own reasons for taking him along. He may well want to send a message to Washington (as well as to his domestic audience) that the civilian and military leadership are on the same page.”
Also, since the time of Independence, the military-to-military relationship has been a primary pillar of Pakistan-US ties. Where the Trump administration is concerned, it views Pakistan primarily through the lens of Afghanistan, while also focusing on counterterrorism.”
“Although it would be idealistic to assume that this history will be brushed aside and a wide-ranging relationship created after this trip, what is entirely possible is for Pakistan to convince the US that besides military ties, this country’s views on a wide number of issues must also be considered.”
“So far, under Mr Trump’s watch the relationship has been quite bumpy, a continuation in many ways of what ties were under the Obama administration — the Pakistan-US relationship has yet to move beyond the ‘do more plus’”
“True, Afghanistan is important, and there is a realisation in America that without Pakistan’s involvement, stability is not possible in the region.”
“It is also in Pakistan’s interest to eliminate all transnational militant groups that may be using its soil for terrorism purposes.”
“But beyond these two issues, Washington needs to pay heed to Pakistan’s concerns on Indian interference in Balochistan, and support in the US for separatists in the province. The US-India relationship must not come at the cost of isolating this country.”
“As far as relationships with other regional states — especially China and Iran — go, the US would be better off understanding Pakistan’s policies and commitments, instead of punishing it for pursuing an independent foreign policy.”
On July 23, US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo will call on the prime minister. Prime Minister Imran will also address a meeting at the US Institute of Peace and have lunch with newspaper editors.
Later, he will go to Capitol Hill for a meeting with the Foreign Relations Committee of the Senate and also address the bipartisan Pakistani American Caucus. So far, more than 40 lawmakers have reportedly signed up for this meeting. The premier will also meet Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi before returning home on July 23.