Washington: Prime Minister Imran Khan will arrive in Washington D.C. on Saturday for high-stake parleys with US President Donald Trump, aimed at advancing Pakistan-US relations in the backdrop of an improving climate of trust between the two countries.
In what would be a Pakistani leader’s first visit to Washington in more than five years, the prime minister will also interact with top American lawmakers including Speaker of the House of Representatives and members of Senate Foreign Relations Committee to develop understanding on some key regional and bilateral issues.
The visit is significant from many angles as Islamabad hopes to build on Washington’s acknowledgement of its key role in facilitating the Afghan peace negotiations. Pakistan now aims to bring bilateral cooperation to the centre stage.
Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said Pakistan would pitch for the moving of ties away from 18-year long Afghan war to a place where the two sides focus on augmenting cooperation in wide-ranging mutually beneficial areas.
“We want a reset in the relationship,” he explained to members of the media on Friday, while noting that the equation has moved from coercion to cooperation and from isolation to invitation. A White House statement last week also said the July 22 talks between the two leaders will seek to consolidate bilateral cooperation between the countries.
“President Trump and Prime Minister Khan will discuss a range of issues, including counter-terrorism, defence, energy, and trade, with the goal of creating the conditions for a peaceful South Asia and an enduring partnership between our two countries,” the statement said.
Meanwhile, Pakistan’s being part of the Afghan solution has been recognised internationally as the country has not only brought the Afghan Taliban to negotiating table with the US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad but also joined calls for end to violence in Afghanistan.
As for the Afghan peace goal, the Trump Administration is looking to have some sort of Afghan agreement by September.
According to experts, a political settlement of the Afghan war — the longest running US war in history — will be a big success for Trump ,who faces re-election in 2020.
The relationship between the countries saw many ups and downs since the US invaded Afghanistan in the aftermath of 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Ties nosedived in the first year of Trump’s presidency, as the US leader suspended aid for Pakistan.
But Islamabad says it now seeks trade and economic ties and is not looking for aid.
While Pakistan and US both have an interdependent relationship, Qureshi said Islamabad was proceeding with a realistic and pragmatic approach to bolstering ties and did not want to raise unrealistic expectations as done in the past.
A key feature of the PM’s engagements will be to invite American entrepreneurs to make use of investment opportunities in Pakistan.
He will speak to members of US-Pakistan Business Council as well as encourage Pakistani-Americans to engage in business in Pakistan, where his government is reforming various sectors of the economy to make doing business easy.
The prime minister, who is popular among expatriate communities, will address a large gathering of Pakistani-Americans in Washington D.C. in a rare public event by a Pakistani leader.
In the regional perspective, PM Khan is expected to highlight his government’s commitment to pursuing a peaceful neighbourhood including support for Afghan peace quest and the imperatives of better Pakistan-India relations, which saw a dangerous escalation this year in the disputed Kashmir territory.
But it would be Prime Minister Khan’s meeting with President Trump, who has invited him after praising Pakistan’s cooperation, that would receive major attention.
Trump, who personally sought Imran Khan’s support on Afghan peace search, recently said the US relations with the South Asian country are far better than what they were a year ago.
The two leaders had publicly exchanged differences through Twitter messages at the start of 2018 but by the end of the 2018 Islamabad and Washington started a positive diplomatic engagement on making Afghan peace process possible.
The Foreign Minister highlighted the two countries’ convergence of views on a political solution to the Afghan conflict.
Pakistan has also recently taken concrete counter terrorism steps, and compliance with FATF requirements to choke terrorist funding.
Pakistan’s Army Chief Qamar Javed Bajwa will accompany the prime minister to the White House talks, in an unprecedented move. According to foreign minister Qureshi, the move shows Pakistan’s political and military leaders are one on national issues.
Imran Khan will also have separate meetings with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and IMF and World Bank top leaders.
The army chief and ISI chief will also have interactions with their American counterparts.
Pakistan says it will welcome American investment in the CPEC projects. The US, for its part, used its influence to de-escalate Pakistan-Indian tensions in the wake of Pulwama attacks and American leaders would like to discuss possible ways toward achieving durable peace in the region.
President Trump’s invitation to Imran Khan for White House talks and Pakistan’s counter terrorism moves are being seen as confidence-building steps that may pave the way for expanded cooperation in areas of mutual interest.