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July 24, 2019

At the White House


July 24, 2019

Prime Minister Imran Khan’s three-day visit to the US has hit some high notes. The most important leg of the trip was of course the meeting with US President Donald Trump which took place on Monday. As analysts had predicted, given the nature of both men, it was vital to any success that the personal chemistry between them worked well. Fortunately, particularly for Pakistan, this appeared to happen from the very first few minutes. The most significant outcome from that dialogue was of course Trump’s offer to mediate in the Kashmir issue and his assertion that Indian PM Narendra Modi had already requested the US to play this role. India’s quick move to deny this might mean this is a dead end – but it can be seen as a success that the US president has at least raised the question of Kashmir.

On other counts too the visit brought multiple moments of success. Quickly changing his tune from the one adopted previously – when Trump came into power, one of his first tweets was to accuse Pakistan of giving the US nothing but ‘lies and deceit’ – President Trump insisted that Pakistan under Imran Khan told no lies. Pakistan of course is a key player in Afghanistan, a matter that was brought up during the talks, with PM Imran asserting he had always sought a peaceful settlement.Trump wants to do something in Afghanistan as a part of his legacy – but it is not yet clear what. If Pakistan can deliver, Khan might manage to improve relations with the Trump administration quickly. Issues involving the suspended US aid, investment and partnership were also brought up. All this is of course extremely good news for Pakistan. We need however to remember that the question of Afghanistan and indeed that of Kashmir cannot be solved instantly. It will take more dialogue, more behind the scenes discussions and more work in offices in both countries before the there can be anything resembling progress.

The prime minister also addressed a large number of visibly happy pro-PTI Pakistani-Americans at his rally in Washington. The much heard rhetoric about not forgiving the corrupt or not reaching another NRO agreement all came up amidst smiles, slogans and loud applause. At home he may have to face harsher realities in tough times. But this should not detract from the achievements of a meeting that Pakistan had lobbied hard for. It has paid off in the end with Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi describing the Kashmir offer as a major breakthrough and also welcoming the American endorsement of Pakistan as an important ally. The outcomes from the visit may take months or even longer to unfold. But the establishment of a strong rapport between President Trump and Prime Minister Imran Khan should serve Pakistan well.

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