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Imran to take up Kashmir issue with Trump


July 20, 2019

ISLAMABAD: The scheduled meeting between Prime Minister Imran Khan and US President Donald Trump tomorrow (Sunday) in Oval Office of White House Washington could make or break affairs between the two countries which experienced sour ties for more than one year.

The Prime Minister is leaving for Washington today (Saturday) via Doha since he is travelling by a commercial flight of Qatar Airways. He would take up Kashmir issue in the course of meeting with the US President while Trump will be seeking further facilitation on Afghanistan peace process from the visiting dignitary.

Highly placed diplomat sources told The News here Friday no specific agenda has been determined for the meeting of the two leaders but several issues could come for discussion during the delegation level meeting. The financial assistance, military aid and training, difficulties in visa for Pakistani nationals, restriction on Pakistan’s diplomats’ movement beyond a specific distance and number of complexities being faced by Pakistanis could be subject of Pakistan’s interest.

Afghanistan, standoff with Iran, terrorism and Shakil Afridi’s would be on the US agenda for talks with Pakistani interlocutors, the sources maintained. Interestingly, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi has already reached Washington to streamline the arrangements of the visit while Foreign Secretary Sohail Mahmood will accompany the Prime Minister. Additional Foreign Secretary Aftab Khokhar who heads the Americas desk has also left for Washington DC.

The diplomats are of the view that Prime Minister Imran is expected to try to mend fences with the United States and enhance economic relations including expansion in trade with the US in his negotiations. He will urge for facilitation of investment in Pakistan. They are of the view that their personal chemistry could play decisive role on the fate and outcome of the talks. The breakthrough in the extensively watched talks could be possible through the personal rapprochement of the two.

It is understood that Indian lobby is hectically engaged to influence the visit and the clout Indians have in White House and State Department could prove to be detrimental for Pakistan’s interests. Prime Minister Khan wouldn’t like to let an impression leave for back home domestic crowd that he could not yield benefit/benefits from the trip.

The US assistance in last month’s bailout package of the IMF drops the hint of Washington softening, the sources said. Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javaid Bajwa will be accompanying the Prime Minister in the visit as both are undertaking their maiden tip in the incumbent slot.

The General’s team will have discussions with top officials of the Pentagon. It is believed that he will play a key role in behind-the-scenes discussions where much of the serious business of the visit will take place, with the military looking to persuade Washington to restore aid and cooperation. General Bajwa has already established his skill in the matter in case of a number of other countries and visits in recent months.

Last year, Trump cut off hundreds of millions of dollars in security assistance to Pakistan, accusing Islamabad of offering "nothing but lies and deceit" while giving safe haven to terrorists, a charge angrily rejected by Islamabad. But Imran will believe the arrest on Wednesday of Hafiz Saeed, the alleged mastermind of a four-day militant attack on the Indian city of Mumbai in 2008, will send the right signals to Trump, who exuberantly welcomed the news on Twitter.

Saeed, who has a $10 million US bounty on his head, is designated a terrorist by the United States and the United Nations. Trump said Saeed's arrest "after a 10-year search" was the result of pressure from his administration on Pakistan to get tougher on militants.

Imran Khan’s assurances that it is cracking down on militants, is likely to stress Pakistan's role in bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table with the United States. Trump has made no secret of his desire to end US military involvement in Afghanistan and Pakistan's cooperation will be essential to any deal to end the war and ensure the country does not become a base for militant groups like Islamic State.

The United States understands that without Pakistan's co-operation, there can be no settlement in Afghanistan. India will be watching the visit closely as it has pushed the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), global money laundering and terror finance watchdog, to put Pakistan on a blacklist of countries that fail to meet international standards in stopping financial crime. But it has had its own problems with the Trump administration over trade and is concerned about being shut out of the peace process in Afghanistan.

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