Imran’s Trump card

  • Both countries need each other


In anticipation of Imran Khan’s visit to the USA, the entire country remains on the edge of its seats with hopes of some positivity. Apart from inflation, taxes and the rising price of the dollar, the country is yet to see a ray of hope in the near future.

Even though the incumbent government has considerably played the right cards when it comes to its foreign policy, including the ICJ verdict tiptoeing in favour of Pakistan, the country still required a major breakthrough when it comes to Western support. The Imran-Trump meeting appears to be a stepping stone in what might turn out to be a significant improvement in the recently strained relations between the two countries.

The leader of the free world although has been quite critical of Pakistan in the past, but at the same time an invitation from the White House might change the narrative. Senator Lindsey Graham upon his visit to Islamabad commented that an in-person meeting between the two leaders might clear up a lot of misconceptions that the US President might have about Pakistan. As a result, the foreign minister of Pakistan continued to pursue the Senator in an attempt to arrange the meeting, and he in turn reportedly requested President Donald Trump personally to extend the invitation.

The visit will surely uplift the sour relations between the countries, and the Prime Minister is expected to achieve a major breakthrough during his visit. However, the manner in which the meeting has been scheduled gives rise to certain pertinent questions which are a cause of concern. Reportedly, the US administration was not willing to set up the meeting and it was only upon Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman’s personal intervention that the invitation was extended.

The Saudi friendship proved useful, no denying that, but at the same time, seeking help from an authoritarian prince, mostly famously known to be involved in Jamal Khashoggi’s brutal murder, is not desirable. Naturally, our country would be in further debt to the Saudi monarchy and would in turn be required to take steps that may or may not be in the interests of the country.

The general perception building up against him back home, on an hourly basis, can be slowed down if he manages to thaw the strained relations. One wrong move at the meeting would cost him not only the US support but the faith of his people back home

Nevertheless, if the visit itself achieves the desired results, then it would be worth it even at the expense of being indebted to the Saudi Crown Prince. Coupled with Imran’s meeting, the presence of the military leadership during the talks will prove to be beneficial as the major concerns that the USA pertain to the military’s role in the region. The Taliban talks and Pakistan’s role in Afghanistan might be two of the major subjects of discussion, and succeeding in addressing the reservations of the USA in that regard would also be a game-changer for the country.

At the same time, remaining mindful of the strong Indian lobby in Washington; the government, before embarking upon the visit, detained Jamaat-ud-Dawa chief Hafiz Saeed so that the notion of Pakistan’s selective treatment of alleged terrorists can be dispelled and the talks can continue without hindrance and calls for Pakistan to ‘do more’.

Pakistan eyes restoration of aid and support in light of the visit which would help the country steer out of its economic woes. Investment in the country from the USA would be welcome provided we do not have to settle for extraordinary terms in exchange. Continued support from US quarters in various sectors would definitely play a part in reviving our economy.

While the visit may well be seen as a feather in Pakistan’s hand, we must not forget that each country has its own interests and the meeting is not solely a favour being extended to us. The USA needs our support in a number of matters. Pakistan’s geographical location puts it at the forefront of all those scenarios in which the USA is currently engaged. Be it peace in Afghanistan, a conflict with Iran or even the trade war with China, Pakistan remains tightly connected to all these scenarios and it is in the best interests of the USA to revive the trust and faith between the two countries. Donald Trump has his re-election coming up in a year’s time and would desperately require a breakthrough in this region so as to sail through the elections.

Brokering peace in Afghanistan with Pakistan’s support might give him the edge he needs for his campaign. It would be safe to assume that Pakistan is better suited to negotiate and market its interests before the US administration and might actually even succeed in securing some, if not all, reliefs.

The US President, in the past, has attempted to play hard ball with Pakistan with his tweets however, it appears that he realised that the bad-cop part didn’t play out well for him as Pakistan didn’t budge. Naturally, he has been compelled to adopt a different approach and come to the table. With both leaders being erratic in their own ways, it wouldn’t be surprising if both develop a common liking and understanding. The meeting of the minds at this point in time is a win-win situation for all. Pakistan would get what it needs whereas the USA would be able to neutralise the effects of its failings in Afghanistan by stabilising the region.

Imran Khan has one shot at playing this right. The general perception building up against him back home, on an hourly basis, can be slowed down if he manages to thaw the strained relations. One wrong move at the meeting would cost him not only the US support but the faith of his people back home. The already economically devastated citizenry cannot bear the burden of a failed meeting with the US President. There won’t be a round two or a rematch. It’s make or break day.

Hopefully, the Prime Minister, with his positive image internationally and seemingly clear approach in regards to matters before him, will be able to return with the flag in his right hand and his chest swelling in victory. Though failing at the economic end, Imran’s trump card might actually be a winner for him.