Mending fences with US

A host of issues await Prime Minister Imran Khan during his maiden visit to US

Mending fences with US

Expectations are high from the visit of Prime Minister Imran Khan to the United States and his meeting with President Donald Trump on July 22. This will be Khan’s maiden visit to the US as premier and his first meeting with Trump.

Last year, Donald Trump had launched a Twitter tirade against Pakistan. Imran Khan handled the undiplomatic tweets in a diplomatic manner.

The upcoming meeting of the two leaders will help improve relations. This visit seems to have a single-point agenda -- a deal between the Taliban and US. Donald Trump is interested in solving the Afghanistan issue before the US presidential election next year.

The US team, led by Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, has held several rounds of talks with the Taliban. It is hoped that a deal will be finalised and signed before the end of September this year. Last month about 250 Taliban fighters were released by US troops in Afghanistan. The Taliban have given a list of more than 800 fighters for their release before signing the final deal.

According to Voice of America, the US troops in Afghanistan are expected to release the remaining Taliban fighters two months.

The US wants Pakistan to make sure the Afghan Taliban do not repeat the past mistake of harbouring the likes of Osama Bin Laden. It wants, the Afghan Taliban to change their outlook and be acceptable to all Afghans.

"Donald Trump wants this deal for domestic purposes. There are 17,000 Americans in Afghanistan. More than 12,000 are equipped with sophisticated equipment, arms and ammunition. The state-of-the art US helicopters are not only for chasing the Taliban, but can also attempt to denuclearise Pakistan if the need arises," says Zafar Hilali, a former diplomat. "Pakistan should not be bothered about the Afghan Taliban because Islamabad’s influence on them is limited now. Besides, the Taliban are not going to jeopardize their government once again by harboring terrorists."

The US does not want to hand over the entire Afghan government to the extreme Islamist group. It wants to involve other Afghans in the government through a democratic process in the country. There is a view that the US has lost the war in Afghanistan and the Trump administration is trying to have Pakistan on board on every decision before pulling out of Afghanistan.

The US announcement declaring BLA a terrorist organisation prior to the visit of Imran Khan is seen as an attempt to improve bilateral relations. But is it enough to call BLA a terrorist organisation?

"Americans believe they did not lose anything in Afghanistan. They believe they have been successful in bringing the North Korean leadership to negotiation table regarding the nuclear programme of Pyongyang. Americans also believe that they have won a trade war with China. They believe they have struck the "deal of the century" in the Middle East -- recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, closing the office of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation in Washington and cutting aid to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees," says Najam Rafiq, director of the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad.

"So there are a lot of successes the Trump administration can boast of on the US foreign policy agenda," he says, "All such agreements on international level will help Donald Trump contest the next year’s elections." Good news from Afghanistan will help strengthen his candidature. But it depends on what kind of deal they are striking with the Taliban.

The Trump administration’s announcement declaring Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) a terrorist organisation prior to the visit of Imran Khan is seen as an attempt to improve bilateral relations.

But is it enough to call BLA a terrorist organisation? The question is what the US is going to do about it. Will it stop the European countries from giving refuge to the members of the organisation? Is the US going to tell Switzerland to kick out BLA leader, Brahumdagh Bugti. Is it going to tell India to stop funding and arming the BLA?

"Yes, Imran Khan should take up this issue in his meeting with Donald Trump," said Ambassador Zafar Hilali. "I think Imran Khan should tell Donald Trump that let’s forget about the money you owe us. You used Pakistani soil for 30 years for your war and you paid peanuts in the name of Coalition Support Fund."

On the issue of the present standoff between the US and Iran, if Trump tries to drag Pakistan in the Middle East conflict, Khan should categorically tell the US that Islamabad is against a war, says Hilali.

"Building up military presence in the Middle East is definitely an American tactic to put pressure on Iran. It doesn’t mean the Trump administration will seek war with Iran," Najam Rafiq opines.