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Imran Khan’s Mission To The White House Accomplished?

Ahmad Faruqui in this article analyses Imran Khan’s visit to the United States. “Imran said Trump was direct and straightforward in his dealings. He endorsed him on the basis of just one encounter, just like he endorsed the Communist Party of China for its meritocracy based on one visit to China. He sure gets impressed quickly”, writes Faruqui.

A wave of optimism has swept among the prime minister’s devotees and admires. On returning home from his three-day trip to the US, he said he did not feel like he was coming back from a foreign country but like he had won the World Cup, taking the cheering crowd down memory lane with him back to 1992.

The stated goal of Imran Khan’s mission to the White House was to reset the relationship between the estranged allies, Pakistan and the United States. His press conference with Donald Trump was covered extensively in the US media. But the coverage was as much for the discussion of Afghanistan with Imran Khan, the focus of the event, as for Trump’s gaffe about mediating in the Kashmir dispute, his nasty reference to wiping off Afghanistan off the map in ten days, and for his random and rude comments on other issues completely unrelated to Pakistan.

Imran Khan’s session at the US Institute for Peace, his visit to Congress, and his interview on Fox News got some coverage in the US media but not much. The lead story was Mueller’s testimony before the House.

The cricket legend’s celebrity status was on display when a US Congressman from California asked him to autograph his cricket bat. A beaming Imran happily obliged. His position as Pakistan’s prime minister was evident when another California Congressman, a man of Indian origin, met him and chatted with him in “Hindustani” and said his grandfather had always prayed for peace between the two siblings.

Why did the Trump administration invite Imran Khan? It was looking for an exit strategy from Afghanistan so it could declare “peace with honor” and go home. After searching alternative pathways, it decided to reach out to its estranged ally. Senator Lindsay Graham was sent to Pakistan. He came home impressed with Imran Khan.

There are reports that the Saudi Crown Prince, who is best friends with Imran Khan and who went so far as to say that he should be considered Pakistan’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia (an impossible honor), reached out to Jared Kushner, Trump’s son in law and confidante, to arrange the visit. Additionally, it seems that the US military reached out to its Pakistani counterpart with whom it has had long episodes of conviviality, and confirmed Pakistan’s seat at the negotiating table with the Taliban.

The stage was set for Imran Khan to come to the US and to apparently bond with the American president. If someone else had been the prime minister of Pakistan, Trump would have invited that person just as easily as Imran. It did not matter who that person was. The fact that it was a novice politician, a cricket legend, a former playboy who was friends with the British royals, did not count for much in Trump’s calculus.

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Trump made quite an impression on Imran, who tweeted favorably about a man who most Pakistani-Americans and millions of Americans find abhorrent and repugnant, and a man whose credibly has been shot totally by the Mueller report. Imran said Trump was direct and straightforward in his dealings. He endorsed him on the basis of just one encounter, just like he endorsed the Communist Party of China for its meritocracy based on one visit to China. He sure gets impressed quickly.

The army chief and the intelligence chief who were with the prime minister stayed behind the scenes. That was a very clever stratagem since it conferred a much needed fig leaf of legitimacy on the prime minister who is widely regarded as being their front man.

Imran sat stoically while Trump issued his broadsides against Afghanistan and Iran. He must have been very pleasantly surprised when Trump offered to mediate in the Kashmir dispute. Of course, India promptly denied Trump’s assertion that it had asked for his assistance on resolving the Kashmir dispute. Trump confessed that he did not know how old the Kashmir dispute was and later added that Pakistan actually was a big country. He said being from New York he knew several Pakistanis and they were all great and fantastic people.

Then came the Fox News interview. Imran dropped a bombshell by saying nonchalantly that the ISI had informed the CIA about Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts, contradicting years of assertions by the Pakistani government. He then got caught up in his own web by saying that the doctor who was administering the polio vaccine (and who is regarded as the man who tipped off the US on the Osama’s location) had humiliated the Pakistanis and was being held in captivity for that reason.

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If Pakistan knew where Osama was, why did they not arrest him and hand him over to the US? That would have avoided the humiliation. Of course, the real answer is that they probably knew where he was but did not want to hand him over. Furthermore, they knew he was really popular in Pakistan, especially in the province where he was being held, and handing him over would have started a local war.

Later, in a speaking engagement at the US Institute of Peace, Imran Khan made the preposterous assertion that press freedoms in Pakistan were better than those in Britain. He obviously knows better.

On the surface, it might seem that Imran Khan has hit a six and succeeded against all odds in resetting ties with the US. In other words, he can stand in front of the National Assembly is Islamabad and say “Mission Accomplished.”

But scholars have written books and papers about the cyclical nature of Pakistan’s ties with the US. It does not take long for misunderstandings to develop between the two countries who have little in common with each other. Their relationship has always been transactional, and not enduring.

One obvious reason why things fall apart, and why President Ayub entitled his autobiography Friends not Masters, is that India stands in the way. It’s a much bigger country in the global scheme of things, and a country that trades extensively with the US. India also plays a big role in US foreign policy by containing China’s rising influence in Asia. India’s enmity with Pakistan is not going away any time soon. And it won’t let Afghanistan slip easily into Pakistan’s orbit.

Thus, only time will tell whether the goodwill generated by Imran Khan’s visit to the US will persist beyond the end of the American presence in Afghanistan, if and when it comes.

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