ISLAMABAD: On the first day of 2018, one of the first things US President Donald Trump did was to tweet about Pakistan. He accused Islamabad for ‘lies and deceit’ in an obvious reference to Pakistan’s anti-terror approach particularly with regard to Afghanistan.
But one of his party’s senators now came up with the description of Pakistan and its efforts to bring peace in Afghanistan may lead to new warmth in ties between Islamabad and Washington.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who is considered close to President Trump, said here on Sunday that Pakistan was not playing any double game in Afghanistan and that Prime Minister Imran Khan offered a unique opportunity to resolve the Afghan conflict.
Senator Graham, who is also Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee and senior member of Armed Services, Appropriations and Budget Committees, is currently visiting Pakistan at the invitation of Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi.
“The narrative back home is that Pakistan says one thing and they do another and its double deal. I can tell you I have seen things changed all in the positive direction,” Graham told reporters at a news conference at the US Embassy after his meetings with Prime Minister Imran Khan and the Foreign Minister. He also later met Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa.
“To those who say things are not better is not fair…..5000 Pakistani soldiers died fighting the common enemy,” he said pointing to the Pakistan’s contribution.
He was impressed by the vision of Prime Minister Imran and said he would request President Trump to meet the Pakistani PM sooner than later.
“I am going back and tell President Trump about my meeting with Prime Minister Khan and I am going to urge him to meet with the Prime Minister soon as practical.
Graham said Trump and Imran had ‘similar personalities’ and they would surely go along well with each other.
“If President Trump ever met Prime Minister Khan and he listened to what I have listened today, I think he will be far more enthusiastic about the region than he is today,” the influential Republican further said.
Graham has frequently travelled to the region including Pakistan.
His statement that Pakistan was no more playing a double game in the fight against terrorism was the first acknowledgement by a senior and influential Republican.
He was not only full of praise for Pakistan’s efforts but also impressed with the vision of Prime Minister Imran.
“Prime Minister Khan is criticized over the past 10 or 20 years of talking about reconciliation with the Taliban. He was right,” Graham said.
“One thing I would say is that the war in Afghanistan will end through reconciliation,” he added.
When asked about the recent move by the Taliban to reject the peace talks, Graham said Taliban could not take over the country by force.
He said the lack of progress in recent talks did not mean end of the road. He was optimistic that there would be forward movement on Afghanistan.
Asked about the concerns in Pakistan that the US might once again leave Afghanistan without achieving the durable peace, Graham said the US assistance in post reconciliation period would even be more vital.
“It is not in our interest or Pakistan’s interest and anyone else’s interest for the Taliban to take the country by force. I told President Trump, we cannot lose Afghanistan because this is where it all started.”
He said Taliban could have a seat on the table since they represent the voice of certain segments in Afghanistan but they could not take over the country by the force of arms.
One of the problems he highlighted in the way of improving relationship between Pakistan and the US was the deepening trust deficit.
He conceded that because of this the relationship between Pakistan and the US had remained transactional since 9/11. “That was a mistake,” Graham pointed out, adding that Pakistan was always doubtful of the US plans in the region.
He wished someday President Trump, Prime Minister Imran and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani may meet and agree on a common ‘strategic vision’ for the region.
Graham also suggested that American people and companies must not look Pakistan through the security lens only. “There are 200 million Pakistanis, very young population, they could be good customers of American products,” he said advocating for the integration of economies through Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between the two countries.
Graham recently proposed that the US should offer Pakistan FTA in return for helping it in stabilizing Afghanistan.
“With Prime Minister Khan, we have a unique opportunity to change our relationship to go from transactional to strategic; the way to do that is to integrate our economies, the FTA.”
“IMF loan will stabilize in the shorter term of Pakistan’s economy but if we could ever one day get to integrated FTA, integrated economies between Pakistan and the US, that’s a game changer for Pakistan,” he said.
Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi hosted the senior US Senator Lindsey Graham over a luncheon meeting at the Foreign Office on Sunday.
Welcoming Senator Graham, Foreign Minister apprised him of Government’s priorities on the external and internal fronts. He highlighted that the Government of Prime Minister Imran had come to power to implement extensive economic reforms, improve governance and bring socio-economic development for the people of Pakistan.
In order to realize this people friendly agenda, a proactive foreign policy is being pursued which, inter alia, seeks to develop a peaceful neighbourhood conducive for stability and prosperity of the entire region.
Foreign Minister informed Senator Graham about Pakistan’s efforts for reconciliation in Afghanistan. He said that peace and stability in Afghanistan was in Pakistan’s interest as well as propitious for the progress of South Asia region.
He also said that Pakistan’s continued overtures to engage India to discuss all outstanding issues including the core Dispute of Jammu and Kashmir were also aimed towards realization of an enduring peace in the region.
Reiterating the need for a positive engagement with the Capitol Hill, Foreign Minister underscored for broadening the discussions to deepen cooperation on bilateral trade, investment and people to people contacts. He said that Pakistan would welcome visits by US Senators and Congressmen to have firsthand information about today’s Pakistan.
Thanking the Foreign Minister for hosting him, Senator Graham conveyed the well wishes of the US leadership to the Government and people of Pakistan. He said that US was appreciative of Pakistan’s sincere efforts to facilitate the Afghan reconciliation process which was a priority of the Trump Administration. He underlined the long term US commitment to the region.
Senator Graham maintained that in line with the historic linkages between the two countries underpinned by close people to people contacts, Pakistan would remain an important country for the United States. He promised to campaign for strengthening bilateral trade and economic cooperation with Pakistan which would lay the foundation of strong, mutually beneficial and a sustaining relationship.