By Saddam Hussein
If one has to sum up PM Imran Khan’s US visit in one line, it can simply be: The Pakistani PM stole the show.
From a supposedly modest visit to almost an hour-long impromptu speech in front of over 20,000 Pakistani supporters in Washington; from investor meetings to a dignified arrival at the White House in his national dress; from President Trump’s acknowledgment of Pakistan’s key role towards the Afghan peace process to his pleasant offer for mediation on the Kashmir issue; it seemed as if everything went right for the Pakistani Prime Minister.
Both Imran Khan and Donald Trump, in their signature style, spoke out bluntly without indulging in ‘diplomatic jargon’. Trump and Khan seemed to be getting along and understood each other on a range of issues and converging on most of the agenda items.
Trump expressed hope that the two leaders would revive all aspects of the bilateral relationship, including expanding trade deals and strengthening military-to-military ties. Trump also desired to boost Pak-US trade 10 to 20 times more than what it is now. He also offered ‘mediation’ on the Kashmir issue, revealing the Indian PM Modi had also asked him to play the ‘mediator’ in resolving the Kashmir conflict.
In a joint presser at the Oval office, while responding to a question on Afghanistan, the US President anticipated that Pakistan’s active role would benefit the Afghan peace process substantially. According to him, Pakistan had the power and influence to make a major difference to the Afghan peace equation. Trump said that Islamabad had a power that other nations did not have with respect to Afghanistan.
PM Imran Khan, on the occasion, remarked, “I am one of those who always believed that there was no military solution, because anyone who knows the history of Afghanistan – there was always going to be a political settlement at the end. I have to compliment President Trump because he has now forced people to end the war, to have a settlement. That’s where I think Pakistan is playing a very important role.” He also urged the Taliban to come to the negotiating table and talk to the Afghan government.
Prior to Khan-Trump meeting at the White House, PM Khan held a power show at the Capital One Arena in Washington DC, which was attended by thousands of Pakistani-Americans. The gathering echoed an important message to the US administration; the US President was scheduled to meet a leader and not a puppet. The Capital One Arena also seemingly gave PM Khan further confidence before meeting the US President.
In a country that, since 2001, was programmed by its fake news media to hate Pakistan, a Pakistani PM was now addressing thousands at a famous venue in the same country. The power show, right in the heart of America, also reinforced Khan’s popular legitimacy, demonstrating that he had wide-ranging support and meant ‘business’.
Meanwhile, President Trump also stunned India by his Kashmir mediation offer. He claimed that the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had also asked him to play the role of mediator between the two countries. As expected, the Indian government retorted promptly with a blunt denial of this claim. The first set of rebuttals was soon out from the spokesperson of India’s Ministry of External Affairs, but perhaps it shall necessitate renunciation from even higher levels, perhaps from PM Modi himself.
Trump’s remarks have caused an instant political frenzy in India, as they damage India’s long-standing position; that there is no room for a third party in the Kashmir conversation between India and Pakistan. In contrast, Pakistan has long welcomed and sought third-party mediation on the Kashmir issue.
Besides positive news pouring in, some analysts also seem uncomfortable with Trump’s reckless attitude. They were of the view that Trump’s ignorance was on full display in his meeting with Imran Khan, where the US President ignorantly claimed that he could wipe out Afghanistan and “win” the 18-year-long war within days if he intended to. This was a comment so absurd and ill-informed that it is unworthy of a rebuttal.
However, was he ill-informed or did he just say that as a face-saving tactic in the backdrop of US failures and consequent exit from Afghanistan out of compulsion?
To conclude, Pakistan and America are like old-school cousins, who would compete in good times, but compelled to cooperate in bad times. For the moment, the cousins are back. Let us keep our fingers crossed and hope that better sense prevails.
The author Saddam Hussein is a Research Fellow at Center for Research and Security Studies (CRSS), and Program Officer for CRSS’ sister organization – Afghan Studies Center, Islamabad.
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