It’s the first time a Pakistani PM was accompanied by the 2 generals for such a meet
Visit aims to reset ties strained by Pakistan’s inability to rein in terror groups in South Asia
Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan was flanked by the country’s army chief Qamar Jawed Bajwa and the director-general of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Faiz Hameed when he stepped into the White House on Monday to meet US President Donald Trump, the first time that a Pakistani prime minister was accompanied by the country’s generals for such a meeting.
This was also the first time since 2015 that a Pakistani prime minister met with a US president.
Bajwa will also meet acting defence secretary Richard V. Spencer who replaced Patrick M. Shanahan earlier this month, the chairman of joint chiefs of staff general Mark Milley and other senior officials at the Pentagon.
The main aim of the visit from the Pakistani side is to reset ties with the US, which were strained by the latter’s impatience with Islamabad’s seeming inability to rein in terrorist groups active in South Asia, mainly in Afghanistan. Pakistan’s wish list is likely to include a resumption of military aid, US help to push India to the talks’ table, and a decisive say in the future of Afghanistan.
Analysts are not sure if the US sought the presence of the two generals, seen as among the most powerful in Pakistan with a major say in framing policy towards the US, Afghanistan and India. “In the past, US visitors to Islamabad have sought and got combined meetings with the Pakistani civil and military leadership," said former Indian ambassador to the US, Arun Singh, who was also in charge of the Pakistan desk in India’s foreign ministry.
If the presence of the two generals along with Khan is a Pakistani initiative, the combined civil military presence shows a unified stance on the part of the Pakistani leadership on Afghanistan, said Singh.
“Clearly the focus of the visit relates to US demands and expectations with relation to Afghanistan," said Singh. “It helps (prime minister) Imran Khan to have the army chief accompany him as any commitments that are made" are seen to come jointly from the civilian and military leadership of Pakistan, Singh said. The reference was to promises in the past made by the civilian leadership that the military later were seen as vetoing. The presence of the army chief and the ISI chief with Khan also ensures that “they hear directly from the US president what his expectations and demands are," Singh said.
The US is seeking an exit from Afghanistan after a 17-year deployment in the country. For this, Washington wants an agreement on the matter by 1 September. Trump’s special envoy for Afghanistan has held several rounds of talks with the Taliban but so far the rebel group has not committed to renouncing violence and has not agreed to a ceasefire. Pakistan is seen as having played a role in pushing the Taliban to the table for direct talks with the US.
In a column published in The Indian Express newspaper on Monday, C. Raja Mohan, director, Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore, was of the view that “for Washington, it is better to have the army and ISI chiefs sitting in the room along with the Prime Minister (Imran Khan) and committing themselves to specific deliverables than having to deal with each of them separately".
Raja Mohan noted that “although Bajwa badly needs to improve ties with Washington, it is by no means clear if the Pakistan army has the will and ability to deliver a seemingly insolent Taliban".
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