Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan will visit the White House on July 22. He will discuss a range of issues with US officials, most notably the peace process in Afghanistan.
On July 22, President Donald Trump will welcome Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan to the White House. This is the first time a leader of that country has come to Washington since a 2015 visit by the now-imprisoned Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
Since then, relations between the two governments have become tense. In January 2018, the US suspended most of its security assistance to Pakistan. In September, soon after Prime Minister Khan came into office, the Pentagon cancelled an additional $300 million in military aid to the country.
Despite this, Pakistan remains an important strategic partner for the US. Therefore, the meeting is expected to cover a number of issues.
What Is Planned?
A senior administration official confirmed that the visit will include a range of activities and meetings with US officials. Topics on the table include trade, energy, and women’s rights. The overriding talking point, however, will be the peace process in Afghanistan.
The US is in the process of negotiating a permanent cease-fire with the Taliban. Pakistan, as the southeastern neighbor of Afghanistan, is an essential partner in putting pressure on the militant group.
At the same time, American officials are expected to talk with Prime Minister Khan about a crackdown of terrorism within his own country. Pakistan recently arrested Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, founder of the Islamist terror group Lashkar-e-Taiba. The US sees this as a good sign, but it is still concerned about the influence of radical groups within Pakistan.
The senior administration official emphasized that “we are clear eyed about the history here. We’re under no illusions about the support that we have seen from Pakistan’s military and intelligence services to these groups.” So far, there are no plans to resume security assistance to the Pakistan.
Why Does It Matter?
Pakistan has been a US ally since the Cold War and a close partner in the War on Terror and invasion of the Afghanistan. The alliance, however, is one with built on unsteady foundations.
Pakistan is a classic “hybrid regime.” The elected civilian government often finds itself constrained by the corrupt and oversized military and intelligence apparatus. Often, officials have close ties to the very terrorist groups that they are supposed to be fighting.
US government officials have long felt uncomfortable giving billions of dollars in military aid to such an untrustworthy ally. When Osama Bin Laden was found to be hiding in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad, it was suspected that at least some Pakistani military and intelligence officials must have been aiding him.
In 2018, President Trump voiced his annoyance at the Pakistani government for its lack of transparency and its ties to extremist groups. This began his administration’s rapid reduction in military aid to the country.
But the US still needs Pakistan to accomplish its goals in the region. If anything, the government’s close ties with extremist groups is an asset as the US seeks a cease-fire with the Taliban.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Khan hopes to placate the US. He has previously said that he will not allow any militant groups to operate from Pakistan. Though, it is always easier to make such a promise than to uphold one.
Each side has something the other wants. The Pakistani state no doubt seeks a resumption of military aid, but the US has sworn not to do this until it cracks down on terrorism. Meanwhile, the US wants Pakistani help with a cease-fire in Afghanistan, but this may be difficult unless it greases the wheels with some aid.
At the same time, the offer of trade deals and private sector investment has the possibility of benefiting both countries.
While this single meeting may not be very consequential, it represents the next step in US-Pakistani relations. This is something with grave consequences for the region, and as the Afghan War nears its second decades, it also has a direct impact on the American people.