In Pakistan, Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit to the United States has already been termed a resounding success. The visit, which a few months ago was not even a possibility, ended up giving’s Pakistan’s diplomacy a much-needed boost.
For Islamabad, there are five major takeaways from Khan’s U.S. visit.
First, a convergence of interests has emerged between Islamabad and Washington on both countries’ Afghanistan policy. Primarily, the focus of Khan’s meeting with President Trump remained on Afghanistan. The last few months have seen Pakistan’s role being appreciated more by the U.S. at the highest levels. This essentially shows that Trump’s close aides and team working on Afghanistan are pleased with Pakistan’s recent efforts. It is probable that after Khan’s visit Pakistan will position itself as a central player in the ongoing negotiations between the Taliban and the United States.
Second, on the question of terrorism there was not any serious criticism of Pakistan. It’s interesting to note that the issue of terrorism didn’t even become a major talking point in official meetings between the military as well as the civilian leadership. Khan during his conversations at various forums made it clear that the country’s policy concerning the issue of terrorism had shifted radically. He also emphasized that there exists a civil-military agreement in Pakistan that “it’s in the interest of Pakistan to not allow militias” within the country. So far, Washington seems to endorse Pakistan’s stance on terrorism.
Third, an unexpected achievement that Islamabad was able to extract from Trump was the latter’s discussion of the Kashmir crisis and willingness to mediate between India and Pakistan. What made the situation worse for New Delhi was Trump’s reference to a conversation with India’s Prime Minister Modi, where the latter allegedly asked for U.S. mediation to resolve the issue of Kashmir. Trump’s statement, however, was denied by India within hours, with New Delhi maintaining that it doesn’t accept third party intervention on the issue of Kashmir. While it’s unlikely that Modi mentioned the idea of a third party intervention, Islamabad has been able to extract a major diplomatic coup with Trump and Khan’s conversation on the subject.
Fourth, the visit has offered bilateral security cooperation and military-to-military relations a much-needed boost. Last year, Trump suspended military training programs for Pakistan. They are likely to be reinstated in the coming weeks. At one point during President Trump’s meeting with Khan, the former mentioned that the security assistance for Pakistan can come back depending on what both countries achieve concerning Afghanistan. Moreover, a few days ago, General Mark Milley, who has been nominated as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that U.S. “interests are better served if the country maintains strong military ties with Pakistan.” It’s possible that Trump may resume Pakistan’s military training programs and exchanges which were suspended last year after both countries developed serious differences over the issue of Afghanistan.
Finally, another major accomplishment for Pakistan is that Khan got along with Trump very well on a personal level. This is very important when it comes to Islamabad and Washington’s bilateral relationship. Moreover, Khan’s recent meeting with Trump is likely going to set up a direct line of communication between the White House and Khan’s office, bypassing the thick bureaucracy on both sides. Essentially, this will help in terms of sidestepping hiccups that usually occur between the two countries when a direct line of communication is non-existent. It’s expected that Trump’s office would like to continue to remain in touch with Khan when it comes to progress concerning the Afghan peace process. Islamabad would like to use such an opportunity to sort out other issues in the bilateral realm.
Above all, Khan’s visit has given Pakistan’s diplomacy a major public relations boost in Washington, which Islamabad fully intends to take advantage of. While it’s too early to predict the nature of Pakistan and the United States’ long-term relations, for the immediate term, Pakistan has scored a major win.