WASHINGTON: Pakistan and the United States have made a fresh start in their bilateral relations as Prime Minister Imran Khan and President Donald Trump vowed to work for Pakistan’s economic development and regional peace.
The White House parleys between the two leaders this week also afforded a momentous diplomatic victory to Prime Minister Khan as President Trump offered to mediate between Pakistan and India on the Kashmir dispute – considered the underlying cause of South Asian tensions.
In fact, the U.S. president’s expression of concern on the situation in Kashmir and clear-cut recognition of the need to address the dispute marked a rare such acceptance of the Pakistani position in Washington in the post-9/11 years.
President Trump’s views represented a contrast to his predecessor Barack Obama’s muffled position on the Kashmir dispute, which, Islamabad complained had tilted towards New Delhi even as Pakistan assisted the U.S. in the war on terror.
But the Oval Office meeting on July 22, presented a huge change for the better as far as Pakistan’s diplomacy is concerned. In addition to aligning their positions on Afghanistan – the most pressing issue for the U.S. currently– the two leaders appeared to have developed a personal understanding.
“I was with Prime Minister Modi two weeks ago, and we talked about this subject. And 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; it’s been going on a long —
“And I think they’d like to see it resolved. And I think you’d like to see it resolved. And if I can help, I would love to be a mediator,” Trump told reporters on top of the meeting.
Reciprocating the U.S. leader’s views and offer, PM Khan said millions of South Asian will pray for President Trump if he were to lead an effort toward resolution of the longstanding Kashmir dispute – an obstacle to peace in the region.
At the same time, the White House acknowledged Pakistan’s initial steps – including measures against militant organizations and leaders – toward promoting peace and security in the region, with President Trump saying that Islamabad had the power to help realize a peace agreement and an end to the conflict in its landlocked Western neighbor, Afghanistan.
“It was one of the most pleasant surprises, not just for me, for my delegation,” PM Khan said next morning in an appearance at the U.S. Institute of Peace.
“The way the hospitality, the straightforward, charming way he treated us, we were all blown over. We loved the meeting with the president,” the Pakistani leader said.
While President Trump backed Pakistan’s position on the Kashmir dispute, Prime Minister Khan pledged that Pakistan would be straight with the United States in facilitating negotiations with the Afghan Taliban. The prime minister also revealed during the visit that as part of efforts to roll peace talks, he would meet a Taliban delegation after his visit to the United States.
Analysts in the United States say Pakistan’s support for President Trump’s push for an Afghan peace agreement could give him a big success as the U.S. leader heads into 2020 reelection campaign, and in reciprocity could bolster the Pakistan-U.S. relationship in wide-ranging areas.
Apart from finding a convergence of views on the regional issues, the U.S. and Pakistani leaders noted the significance of invigorating trade and economic cooperation. When APP Correspondent drew the U.S. president’s attention to PM Khan’s call for amplifying trade ties as antidote to militancy and extremism, Trump agreed and praised the quality of Pakistani products.
“I agree. And I think that’s very true. And that’s actually a very good question. The answer is yes. I see great trade with Pakistan. And I’m not — I’m not talking about a little bit more. I’m talking about — we could go 10 and even 20 times what we’re doing right now.
“You know, Pakistan is a big country. It’s actually a very big country, and they have tremendous product. They make great product. They make tremendous — I’ve bought from Pakistan over the years when I was in the private sector. They make incredible product. They’re brilliant people. They’re hardworking people.”
President Trump’s remarks are being seen as a big boost for Imran Khan’s quest to bring international investment into Pakistan as he sought to fix the ailing economy his government inherited after 2018 elections victory.
Trump also indicated the U.S. could restore assistance for Pakistan – roughly amounting to $ 1 billion per year – which was suspended last year after he criticized that Pakistan had not done enough in the past to curb militancy.
“All of that money can come back, depending on what we work out,” he said.
As for concretization of the promises and intentions, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, said the two sides had also agreed to follow up the goodwill expressions and find ways to implement them.
At the White House, Prime Minister Khan also used the opportunity to articulate Pakistan’s position on the war and terror and highlight the country’s sacrifices. In his address to American intelligentsia at the USIP, the prime minister also emphasized that his government was not looking for ties based on aid but a mutually respectful and dignified relationship built on two-way trust.
The composition of the Pakistani delegation for the visit – including Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa and Director General Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and their meetings with Pentagon leaders and counterparts – reflected that the Pakistani political and military leadership is on the same page on the question of Pakistan’s national security, the foreign minister said.
Besides diplomatic success, Prime Minister Khan was also able to showcase support for his policies among Pakistani-Americans who turn up for a huge gathering to listen to him at Washington’s Capital One Arena, sending a clear signal that he had the support of the vibrant immigrant community.
PM Khan also received a warm welcome on the Capitol Hill, where a bipartisan group of lawmakers belonging to Pakistan Caucus welcomed him with a resolution to hail his first official visit to the United States. Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the top Democratic leader also greeted the Pakistani leader.
Another focal point of PM Khan’s visit was his effort to attract investors into a number of potential areas across Pakistan including the IT and agriculture. During a series of meetings with entrepreneurs and business leaders he held out assurance that Islamabad was ready to welcome them and offer them the ease of doing business.
Meanwhile, several American mainstream media outlets – whose representatives also had the opportunity to listen to the prime minister’s views – noted the importance of the White House meetings.
The Washington Times noted that Prime Minister Khan appeared to score a major diplomatic success with President Trump’s support on Kashmir dispute. The National Public Radio and major newspapers also covered the prime minister’s visit in the context of Pakistan’s support for Afghan peace talks and an end to the longest war in the U.S. history.