PRESIDENT Donald Trump voiced optimism on Monday (22) that Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan could help broker a political settlement to end the nearly 18-year-old US war in Afghanistan and held out the possibility of restoring aid to Islamabad.
“I think Pakistan is going to help us out to extricate ourselves,” Trump said, with Khan sitting next to him at the start of a White House meeting.
Trump spoke of possibly restoring $1.3 billion in American aid that he had cut last year, depending upon the results of the meeting.
The United States and Pakistan have a complicated relationship. Trump last year complained on Twitter that the Pakistanis “have given us nothing but lies & deceit” and “give safe haven” to militants. Pakistan has denied the accusations.
“They were really, I think, subversive. They were going against us,” Trump said on Monday, adding that the US relationship with Pakistan had improved.
Khan told Trump that a peace deal with the Taliban was closer than it had ever been.
“We hope that in the coming days we will be able to urge the Taliban to speak to the Afghan government and come to a settlement, a political solution,” Khan said in the Oval Office meeting when reporters were present.
Trump wants to wrap up US military involvement in Afghanistan and sees Pakistan’s cooperation as crucial to any deal to end the war and ensure the country does not become a base for militant groups like Daesh (Islamic State).
Meanwhile, Afghan president Ashraf Ghani said on Tuesday (23) the US should clarify remarks Trump made about Afghanistan, including a claim he could easily win the war but didn’t “want to kill 10 million people”.
Trump said the previous day that he had plans that would ensure a speedy end to the Afghan conflict, but which would wipe the country “off the face of the Earth”. His comments sparked outrage in Afghanistan, where the war-weary and traumatised population is already worried about a precipitous pull-out of US forces and whether that means a quick return to Taliban rule and civil war.
Afghanistan “would be gone. It would be over in literally, in 10 days”, Trump said, adding, “I don’t want to go that route”, and that he didn’t want to kill millions.
“The government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan calls for clarification on the US president’s statements expressed at a meeting with the Pakistan prime minister, via diplomatic means and channels,” Ghani’s office said in a statement.
Afghanistan has long blamed Pakistan for fuelling the Afghan conflict and for supporting the Taliban — which Islamabad denies — and Ghani is furious about being continually sidelined by the US in ongoing peace talks with the Taliban.
Washington wants Islamabad to pressure Afghanistan’s Taliban into a permanent ceasefire and participation in talks with the Afghan government.
US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad will travel to Afghanistan and to Qatar, where he will resume talks with the Taliban, from July 22 to August 1, the State Department said.
The Pentagon said Pakistan’s army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, was set to meet the top American military officer, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford.
Analysts believe Bajwa will play a key role in behind-the-scenes discussions, with the military looking to persuade Washington to restore aid and cooperation.
Pakistan has not released Shakil Afridi, a jailed doctor believed to have helped the CIA track down former al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, whose organisation was responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States that triggered the American military intervention in Afghanistan the following month. US forces killed bin Laden in Pakistan in 2011.
Trump told reporters he would discuss Afridi’s case with Khan as well as other “hostages.” Khan told Trump that he had brought him “good news” on two hostages, but did not elaborate on what he meant while reporters were present.