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Pakistan

Trump angers India, Afghanistan during visit by Pakistani PM

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan meets with U.S. President Donald Trump in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., July 22, 2019.
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan meets with U.S. President Donald Trump in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., July 22, 2019. © REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Remarks made by US President Donald Trump during Imran Khan’s visit to Washington have puzzled and angered both Afghanistan and India. But Trump also hailed Pakistan's help in advancing peace talks in Afghanistan.

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Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said on Tuesday the US should clarify remarks President Trump had made about Afghanistan during his meeting in Washington on Monday with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan. The US leader claimed he could easily win the war but didn't "want to kill 10 million people".

Political storm

Trump also set off a political storm in India by claiming that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had asked him two weeks ago to mediate in the Kashmir dispute.

India's foreign minister issued a strenuous denial to an infuriated opposition in parliament on Tuesday, after US President Donald Trump said Prime Minister Narendra Modi had invited him to mediate in the bloody conflict with Pakistan.

Pakistan has often sought third-party mediation in the dispute which has cost tens of thousands of lives, but New Delhi remains hostile to the idea, insisting the issue can only be resolved bilaterally.

Turning point

Meanwhile, relations between Pakistan and the US seem to have reached a turning point.

“The relations between the two countries have not been good for the past few years,” says Imtiaz Gul, director of the Center for Research and Security Studies in Islamabad, primarily because of the US suspicion that Pakistan was “indirectly hurting American interests by providing some sort of support to the Afghan Taliban.”

Washington also thinks that the Pakistani government is not “cracking down enough on Afghan Taliban shelters in the northern mountainous areas.

“So this really soured the relations,” according to Gul. But in December last year, Trump agreed to formally request the Pakistani PM for help in trying to get the Afghan Taliban to talk with the Afghan government and into talks with the US.

Seven rounds of talks

The last efforts paid off: until now, seven rounds of talks between the Afghan Taliban and representatives from the US have taken place in Doha, Qatar.

“And this is supposed to have happened with the active support, pressure and perusal of Pakistan on the Afghan Taliban," says Gul.

But Trump's latest remarks on Afghanistan raised eyebrows. On Monday, the US president said that he could solve what he called the problems in Afghanistan within ten days, but that “it would kill millions of people,” and he didn’t want to take “that route.”

“It was a very reckless statement that the American president made,” says Gul.

“It is very obvious that in the past 18 years, force has not provided any solution. Countless military operations, bombings in different areas of Afghanistan have not helped at all.

“So now for the President to say that we can solve this problem in ten days is quite bizarre and extremely irresponsible."

On China, Gul thinks that the relationship between China and Pakistan is very good, and that it gives Islamabad political self-confidence.

China-Pakistan Economic Corridor

“Ever since China became commercially engaged with Pakistan through this Belt and Road Initiative, called the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), it has injected a certain degree of confidence in Pakistani leadership,” he says, adding that the project has “brought in at least $23 billion of investments in the last four years. And that’s why the Pakistani leadership feels indebted to China.”

Because of this, Khan felt compelled to tell a 20.000 strong crowd of Pakistanis residing in the US at Arena One in Washington DC, that “the projects under CPEC were the instrument of development of Pakistan, and that “China is a time-tested friend” – the first time ever that a Pakistani leader showed allegiance to China while on US soil.

“So I think with this the Prime Minister pre-empted any negative talk about Pakistan-China relations.”

Diplomatic and political differences aside, Gul estimates that the two leaders hit it off on a personal level.

Very blunt

“It looks like they have clicked,” he says, “both are very blunt, both are at times reckless, both are anti-status quo.

“And they also hold the media responsible for a lot of bad things that are going around in the US and in Pakistan.

“So there is a convergence of views between the two personalities. And given the fact that Imran Khan is very self-conscious, at times self-righteous, and a very proud Pakistani, who doesn’t let go an opportunity to speak his mind; he doesn’t mince his words.

“So I think they might have clicked because of certain common characteristics."

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