Khan and Trump Discuss Taliban Support and Afghanistan Peace

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan visited the White House on Monday for discussions with US President Donald Trump regarding US posturing towards Pakistan. State support for the Taliban has been a point of conflict between the two nation, and the reason behind Trump’s suspension of $2 billion worth of security assistance for its government. With the Pakistani economy crumbling and Trump working to extricate America from the war in Afghanistan, Khan faces a multitude of challenges only one year into his premiership. 

A bulk of Trump’s meeting with Khan was spent discussing the conflict in Afghanistan. Previously, Trump took to Twitter and blamed the Pakistani government of “lies and deceit,” drawing a line between $33 billion worth of US aid since 2004 and the government’s support for the Taliban. He also accused Pakistan of believing that US leaders are fools, while sitting on the sidelines and refusing to help combat terrorism.

Khan fired back that Pakistani terrorists were not involved in the September 11 terrorist attacks, but still it suffered causalities and economic losses as a result of its involvement in the War on Terror. Khan’s government recently arrested Hafiz Saeed, the terrorist leader who orchestrated the 2008 attacks in Mumbai, although the move is largely symbolic, as Saeed had already been detained several times over the past 20 years and was not exactly in hiding.

In terms of support for the Taliban, Pakistan has arguably been the closest state ally for the terrorist group. After it gained control of Afghanistan in the mid-1990s, Pakistan recognized its government, one of only three governments in the world to do so. Furthermore, it maintained diplomatic ties with the Taliban longer than any other nation. 

The unique relationship between Khan’s government and the terrorist group could make it a US ally during the peace negotiation process in Afghanistan. Both the US and Pakistan stand to benefit from increased regional stability and the gesture of putting pressure on the Taliban would help the economic situation in Pakistan. Both Washington and Islamabad spend tens of billions of dollars every year in the continuing War on Terror, but Pakistan cannot afford to do so indefinitely, especially considering the cutoff of US aid. 

In a desperate move, Khan courted both Saudi and Chinese investors, China being its largest source of foreign investment. While the Saudi deal of $20 billion is unlikely to concern Trump, Islamabad’s ties to China could be an issue as the US – China trade war lingers on. Chinese President Xi Jinping’s ‘One Road’ initiative gives Pakistan a vital role in securing Chinese access to the Arabian Sea. Khan took part in the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in April which earned him praise from Xi’s government. While the economic partnership with China is a side issue for Trump, it’s a major focus for Khan who is seeking to revitalize the Pakistani economy. 

During Khan’s meeting in Washington, Trump put pressure on Khan to amp up the diplomacy with the Taliban. According to Trump, he prefers to negotiate a cease-fire amid downscaled US involvement. Seemingly to hammer home that point, the US president referenced a fiery alternative to diplomacy. 

“I have plans on Afghanistan that if I wanted to win that war, Afghanistan would be wiped off the face of the Earth. It would be gone. It would be over in – literally in 10 days,” Trump told Khan. “And I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to go that route.”

The soundbite prompted less of a response from Khan than it did from Afghani President Ashraf Ghani who asked for “clarification” regarding Trump’s statement. Ghani also interpreted the message as a threat to the sovereignty of the Afghanistan government, declaring that foreign powers could not control his country’s fate.

Trump also compared American involvement with that of policemen, telling Khan that the US is “not fighting a war.”

Khan expressed his appreciation for Trump’s willingness to pursue diplomatic peace and said that they are “the closest we have been to a peace deal.” Despite the mutual understanding and cooperation, Trump administration officials stated that there are no current plans to resume financial aid for Khan’s government. That stance could change, however, depending on the outcome of talks with the Taliban.

On another topic, Trump caused some international confusion when he broached the subject of Kashmir, a conflict-ridden region bordering India and Pakistan. Both nations claim ownership of Kashmir and consequently, have divided it into three states. Pakistan governs Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Kashmir while India controls the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Neither side recognizes the claims of the other and a UN-negotiated ceasefire has been in effect since 1965.

Trump told Khan that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi invited him to serve as an arbiter in the dispute. However, the problem is that Modi never made such a request according to Indian officials. 

“The US president made certain remarks to the effect that he was ready to mediate if requested by India and Pakistan. I categorically assure the house that no such request has been made by the prime minister, I repeat, no such request was made,” said Subrahmanyan Jaishankar, Indian foreign minister. 

India has long-held the view that the issue is not for the international community to decide, and even refused calls for UN resolutions which would force the people of Kashmir to vote on the matter. Neither the UN nor Trump will have any role in mediating talks between India and Pakistan.