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Imran Khan’s US Visit Has Opened A Window Of Opportunity. But A Lot Needs To Be Done

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From an optics standpoint, PM Imran’s US visit was successful, but any strategic shift in US policy should not be expected immediately. The momentum gained by the visit must be maintained, writes Brig (r) Mahmood Sadiq.

Baring offbeat criticism on his reception at the airport, dress code or a few sentences in his political address to overseas Pakistanis, Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit to the US can be termed successful.

The popularity manifested by him and acknowledged by US President Donald Trump is unique, never seen before in the history of Pakistan. Synchronized and clear thought process, fluency in speech and confidence also deserve appreciations.

This show of strength by the PM is the hallmark of the visit. The support shown by overseas Pakistanis and most importantly the body language of those Pakistanis who came to receive him shows how popular the PM is among Pakistanis abroad.

Opposition’s slogan of ‘selected’ back home also received a big jolt with this historic gathering welcoming the PM in DC prior to his meeting with the US President.

Impact created by this mammoth crowd in Washington DC got translated in the body language and conduct of President Trump while hosting PM Imran Khan at the White House.

PM Imran Khan’s remarks about Nawaz Sharif and Asif Zardari were not part of a script, but an outcome of conscious thought process attributable to the impact of this extraordinary gathering.

Low key and almost zero media exposure by military establishment (which was never the case during General Raheel Sharif’s visit to the UK in the past) is another significant aspect of the visit.

Pakistan stands relevant again in the eyes of the US and events of the last six months at international and regional arena amply highlight this reality. This relevance has emerged from combination of environment and impact of happenings in relation to peace and security may it be Afghanistan or India, especially when seen in the context of the US elections in 2020 coupled with the personality of Trump and popularity of Imran Khan.

President Trump had done his homework, as he surprised both India and Pakistan by talking about the beauty of Kashmir Valley and how it is routinely bombed. He was even willing to become a mediator, acknowledging the centrality and significance of Kashmir between two nuclear neighbours. In fact, President Trump understood the sensitivity of Kashmir between political and military leaderships of the past in Pakistan more than its relevance between Pakistan and India.

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The US President knows that he will have to keep political and military leadership on the same page if he’s looking at a face-saving exit from Afghanistan before US elections next year. Kashmir had to be given importance at the expense of annoying India even if temporarily.

Optics aside, the US must not have hesitated in putting across its reservations from India and Afghanistan perspective during meetings and seminars with Pakistan’s leadership. Deliberate neglect of Indian sensitivities by President Trump cannot be without a punitive action guarantee for the future which must have been conveyed to our civilian leadership and military establishment sugar coded as an opportunity rather than warning or a demand.

By the time civil and military leadership are back in their offices, they will be pretty clear what they need to do next if not earlier.

May it be for few hours, weeks, months or for a year, President Trump for the first time in the history of the US, has attempted to go along with ground reality in Pakistan, Afghanistan and the region so openly. Only time will prove how Trump would deliver his promise, considering the kind of relationship the US has with India.

However, one has no option but to be optimistic. May it be war or an act of terrorism, both India and Pakistan always submit their dossiers to United States. If President Trump has read some of those files then there are challenges and difficult road ahead. By mentioning Kashmir, Trump has momentarily won the hearts of Pakistani people and importantly military establishment. A major challenge is to convince Indian PM not to prick fragile democratic process in FATA and at least freeze support to separatists in Balochistan in addition to media and cyber warfare against Pakistani institutions and its social fibre.

Momentum gained by political and military leadership from this visit must be maintained. It’s a difficult and bumpy road ahead. Pakistan has a lot to do at domestic, regional and international domains to maintain this relevance as a result of PM’s visit to United States.

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In addition to what must have been demanded or expected behind the doors, domestically, if US dollar continues to fluctuate, it will not only seriously hamper economic growth but is likely to break this momentum. Persistent domestic political instability, slow and impact less accountability and anti-corruption drive along with persistent rise in inflation and bad governance also have the potential to break this momentum gained through US visit.

Unpopular steps and solid policy measures will have to be taken which shall constitute a foundation to convince outside word for support, help or even mediation in foreseeable future.

First litmus test will be FATF status in October 2019 and trade potential manifestation as promised by the US president. Domestically, PM and his team must own and accelerate drive against corrupt individuals, making it impact and result oriented rather than political rhetoric.

It’s high time to deliver on the promise of accountability and anti-corruption drive. General Bajwa has not only given a strategic message to the US which was baked in reality oven of Pakistan by preferring to wear uniform in the White House, simultaneously presenting one and only face of Pakistan’s military establishment under PM Imran Khan. An average Pakistani hopes that General Bajwa has made an institutional pledge more than individual commitment or any strategic messaging.

From the optics standpoint, the visit was very successful but any strategic shift in US policy should not be expected in immediate time frame. There is a window of opportunity and ray of hope for Pakistan. The heaviest responsibility rests on PM Imran Khan followed by the military establishment to steer Pakistan in the right direction.

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