Imran-Trump meeting: A step in the right direction on the million-mile journey
Here’s the good news – Imran Khan and Donald Trump’s face-to-face meeting was cordial, to say the least. There was no bromance or physical gestures of affection, which Imran’s Indian counterpart is known for, but all in all, not a bad first step towards normalising relations between the two countries.
Considering what happened in November last year – i.e. the Twitter fireworks that essentially tore apart any hope or chances of rapprochement or reconciliation – other than showing a few signs of nervousness, Imran handled the most unpredictable character ever to grace the halls of the White House pretty well!
One could feel some sparks flying between Trump and Imran. After all, they are both celebrities and nationalists, and they both came to power in their respective countries on the basis of sheer rhetoric.
However, before Imran’s supporters take to the streets with the chants of ‘Naya Pakistan,’ a word of caution for the gullible. Despite all the talk of resetting or rebooting the relationship, let’s not get carried away. Yes, Trump was cordial and forthcoming during the meeting and he even offered to mediate or arbitrate (he interchangeably used the words since he doesn’t have any clue about the difference between the two) on the issue of Kashmir (sounded like he liked the word Kashmir!) – something that no other American president has committed to do in the past. Nonetheless, we are still miles and miles away from establishing any kind of stability and trust in terms of making the Pakistan-America relationship blossom again.
Before a reset or a reboot is performed, Pakistan has to unplug itself from the part of its past that has turned its relationship with Washington into a farce. The United States (US) has repeatedly accused Islamabad of harbouring terrorists and terror financing. Through the American lens, Pakistan is also looked at in an unfavourable light because of its treatment of minorities, human rights abuses, and for being too close to Saudi Arabia.
The reality is that Washington needs Pakistan at this moment in time. This particular Imran-Trump meeting transpired because the US wants Pakistan to play a pivotal role in negotiating with the Taliban. The US knows that they can’t keep sitting in Afghanistan forever. Trump has pledged time and again that he wants to pull his forces out of Afghanistan. However, they can’t just pull out abruptly and leave. That’s where Pakistan comes into the picture. They can leverage their links and ties with the Taliban leadership to create prospects of peace, thereby ensuring a US troop pullout. While one doesn’t know the context of Trump’s statement yesterday, that he can annihilate Afghanistan in 10 days, it is a recognised fact that yet another war effort by the US in that part of the world will be nothing less than political suicide for the country’s leadership.
On the other hand, a cash-strapped Pakistan needs US support not only for seeking assistance to counter the pressure from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), but also getting back into America’s good books can perhaps open new doors of opportunity vis-à-vis business and trade. If Pakistan treads the Afghan situation carefully and smartly, and delivers what Washington wants it to do, there are bright chances of a revival of fortunes.