On the face of it, it seems to be no more than a ‘Thank you, Pakistan’ meeting between President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Imran Khan at the White House on July 22, 2019. However, if one went by what the White House Press Secretary said in a statement, Wednesday evening, one would not be too off the mark to assume that it is likely to be more than an acknowledgement of Pakistan’s contribution towards facilitating the ongoing US-Taliban peace talks. Pakistan is said to have even ferried the Taliban representatives, in its own planes, to Abu Dhabi and Doha and also urged the Taliban to agree to talks with the Kabul government.
The PM’s visit, the White House statement said, “will focus on strengthening cooperation between the United States and Pakistan to bring peace, stability, and economic prosperity to a region that has seen far too much conflict.”
It added, “President Trump and Prime Minister Khan will discuss a range of issues, including counterterrorism, defense, energy, and trade, with the goal of creating the conditions for a peaceful South Asia and an enduring partnership between our two countries.”
Despite Pakistan’s actions in compliance with the UN resolutions to ban militant organisations like Lashkar-e-Tayaba and Jaish-e-Mohammad, the US remains concerned that these still remain active and enjoy the support of some elements in the establishment. To remove these lingering doubts, Trump will likely ask the PM to tighten the measures further.
But one is not too sure how the two leaders can cover this exhaustive range of subjects in a meeting that is not likely to go beyond 60 minutes. Possibly, after the exchange of formal pleasantries, the two leaders would spend some time in sizing each other and then each would try to get the other’s attention on the issues that concern him the most.
Hosts normally set the agenda of talks in such short, ‘Thank you’ meetings. Trump can be expected to monopolise the remaining duration of talks.
Trump wants to get out of Afghanistan before the US enters the 2020 election mode but without of course, wanting it to be seen as a defeat. This is what the President would want the PM to guarantee, promising Washington at the same time to continue to deliver even after the US withdrawal by not interfering in the internal affairs of Afghanistan on behalf of the Afghan Taliban.
The US bureaucracy rightly or wrongly has persuaded itself into believing that it was Pakistan which by providing sanctuaries on its soil to the Afghan Taliban, had denied the US an early victory and kept it entangled in the Afghan imbroglio all these 18 years. Therefore, one should not expect any relaxation of pressures by the Washington bureaucracy following the upcoming meeting.
According to some quarters which claim to have an insider’s view of the developments, had it not been for some close friends of the White House, the hostile US bureaucracy would not have allowed even a ‘Thank you’ meet.
These sources claim that Ali Jahangir Siddiqui, the former Pakistani ambassador to the US who is known to be a close friend of Jared Corey Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and currently his senior adviser, is said to have influenced in some ways the White House decision to invite PM Imran Khan.
Ali’s closeness to the US ruling family can be gauged from the fact that his farewell reception was held in Blair House. Blair House is used for receptions to Presidents and PMs and not ambassadors. Ali is also said to have been instrumental in arranging a meeting between Pakistani brass and the US Secretary of Defence.
The PM is not known to be overawed by situations or the company. He has a reputation of speaking his mind rather candidly. It would be advisable for him to have a delegation-level meeting with the US president rather than a one-on-one meet.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 13th, 2019.