Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 19 August 2019

Donald Trump says US working with Pakistan's Imran Khan to find way out of Afghan war

Meeting between US president and Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan tries to smooth strained relations

US President Donald Trump met Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan in Washington on Monday to work together on a way to end America's troop presence in Afghanistan.

Mr Khan was escorted by Mr Trump to the White House, where they were scheduled to meet for two hours.

Before their meeting, Mr Trump said the agenda for the talks involved Afghanistan, and security and trade ties with Pakistan.

US trade with Pakistan reached an all-time high in 2018, exceeding $6.6 billion (Dh24.24bn), US government numbers show.

Mr Trump appeared defiant in his remarks on the conflict in Afghanistan.

“I could win that war in a week," he said. "I don’t want to kill 10 million people. Afghanistan could be wiped off the face of the Earth.

“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 said there was the possibility of restoring US aid to Pakistan, depending on what was worked out, and offered assistance to Islamabad in easing strained ties with India.

"If I can help, I would love to be a mediator," he said. "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 influence with the Taliban for a ceasefire in neighbouring Afghanistan, advance the peace process and create stability so America's involvement could be ended or substantially reduced.

Pakistan, which is suffering economically, wants to broaden the relationship in the hope of securing more investment, trade and possibly restore the US aid cut by Mr Trump.

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 tones in rallying support, and both come from non-political backgrounds. Mr Khan is a former Pakistani cricket captain and Mr Trump a former property mogul.

The Pakistani leader asked Mr Trump to help resolve the Kashmir dispute with India, and that he would have “Pakistanis' prayers” if he succeeded in that goal.

US officials were looking to press Pakistan mainly on the peace process in Afghanistan, counter-terrorism and ties with China.

“The purpose of the visit is to press for concrete co-operation 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,” a US official said before the meeting.

The US has been engaged in rounds of peace talks with the Taliban to try to end America's longest war. But security challenges and terror attacks by the militants have impeded plans.

The State Department's official for South and Central Asian affairs, Alice Wells recently told Congress that Washington was hoping to “secure Pakistan’s support for the Afghan peace process”.

Ms Wells said the administration expected Pakistan to continue to play a constructive role in reconciliation efforts, and to do more in counter-terrorism efforts.

“Pakistan must sustain these measures and expand on them, including by prosecuting terrorist leaders," she said.

"The reality is that terrorist organisations such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Muhammad will continue to pose a grave risk to international peace as long as they are able to operate freely in Pakistan."

As a signal to Washington, Pakistani authorities 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, which it cut last year.

Also on the agenda was China’s rising influence in Pakistan, with Beijing pledging to invest $60bn there.

Accompanying Mr Khan on his US visit are his Foreign Minister Mehmood Qureshi, trade adviser Razzak Dawood and finance adviser Hafeez Pasha.

Also there are security officials including the army chief, Gen Qamar Bajwa and the powerful head of the ISI intelligence agency, Faiz Hameed.

Updated: July 23, 2019 09:41 AM

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