PM Imran Khan made his maiden official visit to US on president Trump’s invitation. He holds talks with President Trump in the White House. The Army chief and DG ISI is also accompanying the PM. Both the PTI government and media have declared this visit historic and successful. PTI ministers and leaders are happy that president Trump praised Imran khan and declared him the most popular leader of Pakistan.
It was not long ago that president Trump was criticising the Pakistan. He was used to tweet negative comments and remarks about Pakistan and its role in Afghanistan. He stopped Pakistan’s military and non-military aid and assistance. He also took other measures to punish Pakistan. So the question is what has happened in last few months that President Trump changed his heart. Why PM Imran Khan has become so important for him. The reason is Afghanistan. He needs Pakistan to reach peace deal with Afghan Taliban in next few months. He also needs Pakistan’s help to build consensus between Afghan government, Northern Alliance groups and Afghan Taliban.
President Trump needs a success story before he officially enters into presidential campaign early next year. He wants to sign a peace deal with Taliban to take credit of ending the America’s longest war. This is why he has changed his heart and now he is praising PM Imran Khan and Pakistani efforts to bring peace in Afghanistan.
The Pak-US relationship has seen many ups and downs in last 70 years. There is strong feeling in Pakistan that US abandon it soon after the Soviet troop’s withdrawal from Afghanistan. In last 40 years, the Pak-US relations have been dominated by the Afghan situation. The US lure Pakistan with aid and military assistance when it needs Pakistan’s hand in Afghanistan and abandon it after securing its interests. 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.
There will be no smooth sailing in the restoration of warm diplomatic relation and close ties. There are many obstacles and odds on the way. This is why army chief and DG ISI are part of official 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 military and civilian 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.
True, Afghanistan is important, and there is a realisation in America that without Pakistan’s involvement, stability is not possible in the region. This realisation is a positive development. This is a step in the right direction. It is also in Pakistan’s interest to eliminate all transnational militantgroups that may be using its soil for terrorism purposes.
If Trump wants Pakistani help to achieve its target in Afghanistan than he 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 must realise the Pakistani concerns and interests in Afghanistan. Pakistan has played a key role in facilitating the Afghan peace process and the US-Taliban talks. These have reportedly made encouraging progress over the past few months. An agreement on the withdrawal of US-Nato troops has evidently been reached between the US and the Afghan Taliban, although no timetable for the withdrawal has been finalised and it is not clear if the troop withdrawal would be commenced before, during or after a political settlement in Afghanistan.
The sources close to the negotiations in Doha has revealed that Taliban for the first time accepted the presence of small number of American troops in Afghanistan as a counterterrorism force.
The US administration seems optimistic on the possible peace deal with Taliban. Two weeks ago, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expressed this optimism when he said in Kabul that “the time for peace has come”. He hoped for a political settlement by Sept 1.
The US is asking Pakistan to bring the Taliban on the negotiation table with Afghan government. The Taliban has so far refused to sit with Afghan government. However, there is a formidable array of questions that must be answered to arrive at an intra-Afghan political settlement: how will power be shared? How the executive and administrative powers will be distributedat the centre and provinces? How the ethnic and nationalist balance will be maintained.
How would security be maintained? Would the Taliban and regime forces be responsible for security in the areas they control? How the Taliban fighters be eventually integrated into Afghan military and police; if so, how? Would the US and the international community continue to provide economic and other assistance to a post-settlement Afghanistan, including areas/entities controlled by the Taliban? Will the (US-drafted) Afghan constitution be reaffirmed, amended or replaced? Will protections for women and minorities be preserved?
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18 August, 2019