Imran Khan will meet Donald Trump on his first visit to Washington as Pakistan’s prime minister burdened by the task of trying to mend relations mired in mutual distrust and restoring financial support cut off by the US president.
The US has suspended most of its military aid, worth $300m (£240m), after Trump accused Pakistan of not doing enough to fight extremism.
Khan is also seeking to get his country removed from a Financial Action Task Force sanctions list for being deemed uncooperative in combating money laundering, a listing that some analysts estimate costs the Pakistani economy up to $10bn.
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The US has also put Pakistan on a watch list for failing to protect religious minorities.
Manoj Joshi of the Observer Research Foundation, a Delhi thinktank, said: “[The Pakistani government] has got to get their relationship with the US back on track. The US has stopped military aid to Pakistan so they would want a restoration of that, and then of course they would want the pressure of the Financial Action Task Force to ease off – that’s very significant because if that doesn’t ease off then their whole economic situation is imperilled.”
When they meet on Monday, Trump and Khan will first have to overcome a record of mutual hostility on social media. The US leader has described Pakistan as “just one of many countries taking from the US without giving anything in return”.
Khan replied on Twitter: “Instead of making Pakistan a scapegoat for their failures, the US should do a serious assessment of why, despite 140000 Nato troops plus 250,000 Afghan troops and reportedly $1 trillion spent on war in Afghanistan, the Taliban today are stronger than before.”
In Washington, where Khan arrived at the weekend, the Pakistani premier can be expected to highlight Islamabad’s support for US talks with the Taliban, and point to the arrest of Hafiz Saeed, the founder of the terrorist group behind the 2008 attacks in Mumbai, as evidence of good faith in the struggle with extremism as he seeks relief from the relentless economic pressure from Washington.
Joshi said: “It’s too much of a coincidence that he gets arrested at a time that Pakistan’s case on the financial action taskforce is coming up, and when the Pakistan prime minister is going on an important visit to Washington DC.”
US officials responded with scepticism to Saeed’s arrest, noting that he had been arrested seven times since 2001, when it suited Islamabad politically. “That is why we, again, are very clear-eyed when we see him arrested,” a US official said. “He has been released – arrested and released in the past.”
Khan’s leverage will be limited, but Pakistan’s goodwill is essential if concessions are to be wrung out of the Taliban. He can also play on US anxieties that his country is being pulled ever deeper into China’s sphere of influence.
“The purpose of the visit is to press for concrete cooperation from Pakistan to advance the Afghanistan peace process and to encourage Pakistan to deepen and sustain its recent effort to crack down on militants and terrorists within its territory,” a senior US administration official said.
”We also want to message to Pakistan that the door is open to repairing relations and building an enduring partnership if Pakistan changes its policies with regard to terrorists and militants.”
Noting the power of Pakistan’s military and the fact that the country’s army chief, Qamar Javed Bajwa, was accompanying Khan on his trip, Ayesha Siddiqa, an author and analyst, said “the real talking would begin” between Trump and the Pakistani military leadership after Khan left.
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She added: “Obviously, Afghanistan will be on top of the agenda. Pakistan’s visiting team, with army chief Bajwa in attendance, understands it would have to cooperate with Washington to ensure an uneventful withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan – “Team Trump” needs to keep its promise for any chance at the next presidential elections due in 2020. This is certainly the basic necessity to get the Americans to restart the foreign military funding for Pakistan.”
In recent years, as the relations between Pakistan and US have moved from bad to worse, a common perception in the Pakistani establishment is that the country should be less reliant on the US as China’s importance in the region grows.
Trump’s series of racist tweets in recent days are like to worsen his already poor reputation in Pakistan as an Islamophobe. A government minister recently retweeted a New Yorker article entitled “A racist in the White House,” noting “when racism and bigotry become acceptable political norms in democracies”. The minister quickly deleted the tweet.