The Pakistani prime minister wrapped his three-day official visit to the United States on July 24 with some major diplomatic successes in his bag. For the ease of analysis, the visit could be divided with five major engagements. The visit started with Khan’s address to Pakistani Community at Capital One Arena in Washington where he received a rockstar’s reception by a jam-packed crowd. The second major engagement, the core of his Washington campaign, was the meeting with the US president Donald Trump which was, indeed a positive one. The third was an exclusive interview with Bret Baier on Fox News where he appeared much more candid. The fourth was his interaction with US policy makers, scholars and diplomats at the US Institute of Peace. The final engagement was his address to the members of Congressional Pakistan Caucus at the Capitol Hill. Let us now analyse the engagements individually by focusing on their success and takeaways.
The Community Address
The Pakistani Prime Minister made history at Washington D.C as he spoke to a thousands from the Pakistani diaspora in the United States. While this made headlines in the local and International Media, providing hype to his visit, his speech brought a bit of disappointment for the crowds back at home. Much more than the similarity of the show with his election campaign rallies in Pakistan in 2018, it was Khan’s speech that invited criticism.
The focus of the address was accountability process and criticism of the influential elites including the opposition leaders. He wasted a brilliant opportunity of addressing the Pakistani diaspora on an election campaign style speech. Little emphasis was given on revamping Pak-US relations and vision of reshaping Pakistan, overcoming the immediate challenges faced by the Islamic Republic. US academician Michael Kugelman’s comment was an apt description of the speech. He tweeted,
That was quite a stirring speech from Imran Khan. Though much of it sounded more like a campaign pitch than a PM’s address. #PMIKJalsaInUSA— Michael Kugelman (@MichaelKugelman) July 21, 2019
Meeting with President Trump
The much anticipated meeting of 2019 was Imran Khan’s with Trump in the White House. The meeting brought a big success for Pakistan in terms of diplomacy. Imran Khan wanted to re-invigorate a dying Pakistan-USA relation but on a different pattern. His ambition was endorsed by the the US premiere as he accepted Pakistan’s central role in Afghan peace process. Trump expected his hopes in Pakistan in extricating USA from a bloody Afghan war by earning a political settlement that would save millions of lives.
“I think #Pakistan is going to do a lot. I think #Pakistan is going to make a huge difference. #Pakistan will save a million lives in #Afghanistan. #Pakistan has a power that other nations don’t have with respect to #Afghanistan.”— Rationale 47 (@Rationale_47) July 22, 2019
says President Donald Trump as #KhanMeetsTrump. pic.twitter.com/BpPZ34yZVC
Adding to the diplomatic victory was a serendipity for the Pakistani Prime Minister, as the US president offered to mediate between India and Pakistan on Kashmir. Trump stated tat prime minister Modi had requested him to do the same which triggered a blunt denial by the Indian Ministry of External Affairs.
We have seen @POTUS‘s remarks to the press that he is ready to mediate, if requested by India & Pakistan, on Kashmir issue. No such request has been made by PM @narendramodi to US President. It has been India’s consistent position…1/2— Raveesh Kumar (@MEAIndia) July 22, 2019
Apart from whether or not Modi requested the US president for mediation on Kashmir, the US willingness to intervene in Kashmir issue was warmly welcomed by Pakistan as a diplomatic victory. Trump’s statement on Kashmir internationalised the dispute once again, re-affirming Pakistan’s longstanding diplomatic stance of Kashmir being in need of International intervention in line with the UN resolutions. India’s reaction was predictable since it could not afford to acquiesce to Pakistan’s attempt to internationalise the dispute and that too, in a meeting with US president. However, any pragmatic development on Kashmir dialogue will demand a push to India which remains adamant to any policy shift. With Trump’s statement, however, the US policy of non-intervention in bilateral disputes has seen a shift. Pakistani journalist Rehman Azhar’s comment aptly described the shift in his comment on the affair.
Trump’s offer of mediation also signifies a departure from consistent U.S. position of non interference on Kashmir issue. This will be a paradigm shift for Kashmiris & the region. https://t.co/f52SDQg9DD— Rehman Azhar (@rehman_azhar) July 22, 2019
Interview to Fox News
The Pakistani Prime Minister was interviewed by a Fox News journalist Bret Baier who attempted to give him tough time. However, Khan’s replies to intricate questions were hard-hitting and very much in-line with his stance on the US war on Terror since 2001. He silenced the US concerns regarding Pakistan’s Nukes by declaring that Pakistan’s military was one of the most professional in the world and United States was witness to that. Replying to a question regarding Bin Laden’s residence in Pakistan, he revealed that it was the ISI that gave the initial intelligence to the CIA regarding Bin Laden. He clearly stuck to his narrative of the War on Terror being USA’s war and not Pakistan’s as not a single attacker in the 9/11 incident had any connection to Pakistan. As Baier mentioned 3000 American lives lost, Khan countered with the Pakistani loss which stands above 70,000 lives and more than $ 100 Billion in America’s war as an ally. The most important takeaway from the interview was the prospect of a prisoner swap between Pakistan and America on Aafia Siddiqui and Dr. Shakil Afridi, an American spy.
Khan’s interview was a strong representation of the dominant point of view on US war on terror in Pakistan and it was the first time a Pakistani official declared that it was not Pakistan’s war. He brazenly rejected the idea of economic assistance from United States calling it a disgrace for his country as nations develop through self-respect. He expressed that his major objective in the Washington visit was to make United States understand Pakistan’s voice, which had hitherto been unheard. Keeping in mind this very objective, it can be stated with confidence that Khan advocated Pakistan’s cause convincingly in washington, as it was the first time a Pakistani prime minister explained the difference of opinion regarding War on Terror between both the countries.
Interaction at US Institute of Peace
Imran Khan interacted with american intelligentsia at the US Institute of Peace and talked on a variety of topics. The focus of course, was security and Afghanistan and the trajectory of Pak-US relationship. Imran expressed his will to reinvigorate a dying relationship with the US by a revamp based on equality and mutual interest which had been lacking in the past. The relations in the past were shaped not on cold war dynamics due to which they remained largely transactional. He vowed to press Afghan Taliban for talks and take all Afghan neighbours into confidence in the peace process. This clearly meant that India had no place in a Pakistan steered Afghan peace process and that India would not be allowed to interfere in it.
The talk could widely be viewed in the realm of regional security for which Pakistan was willing to cooperate with the United States. Khan rejected the doctrine of ‘Strategic Depth’ expressing that it had been a policy regarding Afghanistan in the past at Islamabad which had proven to be damaging. He attempted to convince the audience regarding the common objectives of both Pakistan and USA in Afghanistan at the juncture. However with both Pakistan and Afghanistan involved in a complex powerplay in Afghanistan, the objectives are not same rather, it has been the contrast between the two, since the very beginning that had damaged the ties between the two countries.
Talk at Capitol Hill
The talk at capitol Hill was a perfect wrap of the three-day visit as the prime minister stressed on initiating a new relationship with the United States based on the newly developed understanding which he had been attempting in Washington for the past three days. In a joint press conference with the Pakistani prime minister, the US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi expressed her faith in Pakistan regarding enduring peace in the region. She also expressed that Pakistan had not been represented well in the past but Khan’s visit was changing that past which was a victory of the Pakistani narrative. Khan appeared successful in his attempt to convince the US congressmen of being a legitimate popular leader of Pakistan, enjoying support of the army, the security forces and the Pakistani public.
To decide whether Khan succeeded in Washington, we must take into account, the objectives of the visit. The key objectives of the visit were to seek US support in the Pakistan initiated Afghan peace process which has no place for India and revamp relations with the United States on a whole new level. Khan’s visit succeeded in both the goals comprehensively. The Pakistani prime minister assured America that his country was not eyeing on economic assistance but was rather looking for a shared strategic vision, particularly with respect to Afghanistan. The biggest Diplomatic victory, though it came unplanned, was Trump’s offer to mediate on Kashmir which brought both panic and embarrassment for New Delhi. To sum it up, Khan’s visit has buried in Washington, the Indian diplomatic onslaught of isolating Pakistan.
About The Author
Abubakar Farooqui is the brains behind Rationale 47. He Studies International Relations at Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad. His areas of interest include National Security of Pakistan and International Politics, particularly of Afghanistan and Middle East. He tweets @AbubakarTweets
The views expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect or represent the views of Rationale-47.