US President Donald Trump, speaking at a White House meeting with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, said on Monday that Washington is working with Islamabad to find a way out of the war in Afghanistan.
Arriving in a traditional Pakistani shalwar kameez, Mr Khan was escorted by the US President to the White House where they were scheduled to meet for two hours. Speaking at the top of their meeting Mr Trump emphasised the broad nature of the talks involving Afghanistan, security and trade ties with Pakistan. US bilateral trade with Pakistan reached an all-time high in 2018, exceeding $6.6 billion according to US government numbers.
On Afghanistan, Mr Trump appeared defiant in his remarks.
“I could win that war in a week. I don’t want to kill 10 million people.... Afghanistan could be wiped off the face of the earth,” he said. “I don’t want to go that route. ... I have a plan that could win that war in a very short period of time.”
Mr Trump held out the possibility of restoring US aid to Pakistan, depending upon what is worked out, and offered assistance to Islamabad in trying to ease strained ties with India.
"If I can help, I would love to be a mediator," Mr Trump said at the White House. "If I can do anything to help, let me know."
The White House visit is meant to smooth tensions and deal with complex problems facing both nations.
The Trump administration wants Islamabad to use its leverage and influence with the Taliban to get a ceasefire in neighbouring Afghanistan, advance the peace process and create stability so the US president can end or substantially reduce America's involvement in the war.
Pakistan, which is suffering economically, wants to reset relations and broaden the relationship in hopes of securing more investment, trade and possibly a restoration of the US aid that Mr Trump cut.
Mr Khan tried to embellish the strained relations between the two countries, and struck a soft tone in addressing the US President with whom he shares an unconventional political rise. Both have relied on persona and nationalistic populist tone in rallying support, and both come from apolitical backgrounds. Mr Khan was a former cricket captain and Mr Trump a former real estate mogul.
The Pakistani prime minister asked Mr Trump to help resolve the Kashmir dispute with India, and that he would have “Pakistanis prayers” if he succeeded in that goal.
But beyond the personal connection, US officials were looking to press Pakistan on a number of issues, mainly: the peace process in Afghanistan, counterterrorism, and ties with China.
A US official said on a conference call with reporters prior to the meeting that “the purpose of the visit is to press for concrete cooperation from Pakistan to advance the Afghanistan peace process and to encourage Pakistan to deepen and sustain its recent effort to crackdown on militants and terrorists within its territory.” The US is engaged in peace talks with the Taliban, hosting multiple rounds of talks in Qatar, and Mr Trump has outlined his preference for withdrawal from America’s longest war if such a deal transpires. Security challenges and terror attacks claimed by the Taliban have, however, impeded such plans.
Senior Bureau Official for South and Central Asian Affairs Alice G. Wells recently told Congress that Washington is hoping to “secure Pakistan’s support for the Afghan peace process” and that it expects “Pakistan to continue to play a constructive role in reconciliation efforts.” On counterterrorism (CT) efforts, Ms Wells hoped for Pakistan to do more.
“Pakistan must sustain these [CT] measures and expand upon them, including by prosecuting terrorist leaders. The reality is that terrorist organisations such as Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LeT) and Jaish-eMuhammad (JeM) will continue to pose a grave risk to international peace as long as they are able to operate freely in Pakistan,” she said.
As a signal to Washington, Pakistani authorities arrested last week arrested US designated terrorist Hafez Saeed, whose militant group was behind the 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai.
Mr Trump welcomed the move but the US appears to be looking for more before it considers resuming any of the $800 million in aid to Islamabad that it cut last year. On the agenda as well was China’s rising influence in Pakistan, with Beijing pledging to invest $60 billion there.
Accompanying Mr Khan on his US visit are his foreign minister Mehmood Qureshi, trade adviser Razzak Dawood, finance adviser Hafeez Pasha, and security officials including the army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, the powerful head of the intelligence agency ISI chief, Faiz Hameed, and the head of the media wing of the army General Asif Ghafoor.