–US Senator Graham lauds Pakistan’s efforts for Afghan peace, contributions in war on terror
–PM Khan, US senator discuss bilateral ties, Afghan peace process
ISLAMABAD: Senior US Republican Senator Lindsey Graham on Sunday said that US President Donald Trump should meet Prime Minister Imran Khan to boost Washington’s Afghanistan peace efforts, calling the Pakistani prime minister an “agent of change”.
The Republican — an influential ally of Trump — made the comments in Islamabad after meeting the premier, saying PM Khan was a “new partner” who could potentially help with a peace deal in Afghanistan.
“I’m going to urge him (Trump) to meet with the prime minister as soon as practical,” he told reporters, adding that he believed PM Khan and Trump would “hit if off” because they have “similar personalities”.
“Prime Minister Khan is the agent of change that I have been looking for,” he added.
He said that the previous transactional approach by the US administration towards Pakistan should change into a broader strategic and economic relationship. He noted with admiration the Pakistani government’s counter-terrorism efforts and sacrifices of the armed forces in the war on terror, and for securing the tribal areas, bordering Afghanistan. The change could be visibly seen in those tribal areas, which were hit hard by the terrorism and militancy, with the Pakistani government undertaking huge economic and educational reforms programmes to integrate the tribal people into the mainstream of national political and economic life, he added.
Lauding Prime Minister Khan as ‘a credible and convincing personality’, the senator agreed that his stance towards a peaceful negotiated settlement of the Afghan issue was correct and termed his meetings with the leadership of Pakistan very positive and encouraging.
US Senator Graham said he personally wanted to shift the US-Pak ties towards a stronger strategic economic partnership as Pakistan had huge potential with a population of about 100 million young people, who could be useful for US markets. He urged the US businessmen to look into such business potential of Pakistan, which was a good place for investment and could trigger prosperity for both the countries. He also admitted that the US-Pak ties in the past were not good and referred to US President Trump’s tweets about Pakistan.
But, he said, he was optimistic about a telephonic call from the US president to PM Khan and a follow-up meeting sooner or later for future engagements of the two countries. The US, he said, must look upon Pakistan and Afghanistan as the huge economic opportunity and regretted that such vision by the US administration, in the past, was missing. The US senator further stressed close working of the US and Pakistan to ensure peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan and recognised the significance of Pakistan as a major country in the region.
“I wished the same plans to secure the Pak-Afghan border on the Afghan side as had been undertaken by Pakistan,” he noted with admiration the steps taken by Pakistan security forces on the Pak-Afghan border. He said that the US wanted all the countries in the region to play their role in the Afghan reconciliation process.
To a query, he replied that the US could not afford to walk away from Afghanistan after decades of long war and maintained that Taliban had to realise that they must sit on the negotiation table by laying down arms and integrate into the political life of Afghanistan under the Afghan constitution. “The time is not on your side. The time is much on the US side. They cannot take away Afghanistan by force. Afghanistan boasts of a stronger army as compared to decades ago,” he emphasised. The negotiations were about something ‘to give and take’, he added.
The US senator defended the presence of US military footprints on the Afghan soil, saying though, they were stationed only to train and help the Afghan soldiers, but their presence was necessary to ward off terrorist outfits likes Al-Qaeda and Daesh. He said that the people in Afghanistan no longer wanted to buy the agenda of those terrorist organisations. About a question regarding impasse in holding US and Taliban talks, he expressed his optimism for the continuation of the reconciliation process.
Earlier, US Senator Lindsey Graham called on PM Khan in Islamabad to discuss bilateral ties and to review the regional security situation.
PM Khan reiterated government’s commitment to continue working with the US and other regional stakeholders to find a political settlement in Afghanistan. He underscored the need for normalising relations with all neighbouring countries to unleash the potential of regional cooperation.
Prime Minister stated that his economic team was constantly striving to evolve business-friendly policies for potential investors which could be beneficial for US companies as well.
Senator Graham conveyed his appreciation of Pakistan’s positive role in the ongoing efforts to find a political settlement in Afghanistan. He praised the prime minister’s vision for a political solution to the Afghan conflict.
Senator Graham lauded the vision of PM Khan to improve the economy, eliminate corruption and create jobs for the people of Pakistan. Prime minister’s efforts to normalise relations with neighbouring countries are noteworthy, he noted.
In view of the historical linkages between Pakistan and the US, the two sides agreed to deepen the bilateral economic ties particularly in the context of trade and investment cooperation.
Earlier, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi hosted US Senator Lindsey Graham over a luncheon meeting at the Foreign Office (FO) on Sunday. US Senator Graham is the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee and senior member of Armed Services, Appropriations and Budget Committees. He is visiting Pakistan at the invitation of the foreign minister, which he had extended during his visit to Washington in October last year.
Welcoming US Senator Graham, FM Qureshi apprised him of the government’s priorities on the external and internal fronts. He highlighted that PM Khan’s government had come to power to implement extensive economic reforms, improve governance and bring socio-economic development for the people of Pakistan. In order to realise this people friendly agenda, a proactive foreign policy is being pursued which, inter alia, seeks to develop a peaceful neighbourhood conducive for stability and prosperity of the entire region, he added.
FM Qureshi informed US Senator Graham about Pakistan’s efforts for reconciliation in Afghanistan. He said that peace and stability in Afghanistan was in Pakistan’s interest as well as propitious for the progress of the South Asia region. He also said that Pakistan’s continued overtures to engage India to discuss all outstanding issues, including the core issue of Kashmir, were also aimed towards the realisation of enduring peace in the region.
Reiterating the need for a positive engagement with the Capitol Hill, FM Qureshi underscored for broadening the discussions to deepen cooperation on bilateral trade, investment and people to people contacts. He said that Pakistan would welcome visits by US senators and congressmen to have first-hand information about today’s Pakistan.
Thanking the foreign minister for hosting him, US Senator Graham conveyed the good wishes of the US leadership to the government and people of Pakistan. He said that the US was appreciative of Pakistan’s sincere efforts to facilitate the Afghan reconciliation process which was a priority of the Trump administration. He underlined the long term US commitment to the region.
US Senator Graham maintained that in line with the historical linkages between the two countries underpinned by close people to people contacts, Pakistan would remain an important country for the US. He promised to campaign for strengthening bilateral trade and economic cooperation with Pakistan which would lay the foundation of strong, mutually beneficial and a sustaining relationship.
On January 19, the foreign minister had said that Pakistan was trying to host the next round of talks between the US and Afghan Taliban as such kind of dialogue was in the interests of the Afghan government, Taliban and the entire region. “Solution to Afghan issue is not possible without intra-Afghan dialogue and Pakistan considers it vital for the restoration of peace in the entire region,” Shah Mehmood Qureshi had said. However, the Afghan Taliban rejected media reports that they were prepared to resume meetings with US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad in Islamabad and repeated their refusal to deal directly with the Afghan government, as the US diplomat extended his stay in Pakistan in wake of the development.
Media reports had suggested that a meeting in Islamabad was on the cards following discussions between Khalilzad and Pakistani officials, including PM Khan and Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa. Senior Taliban leaders had said that regional powers, including Pakistan, had approached them and wanted them to meet the US delegation in Islamabad and also include the Afghan government in the peace process but those approaches had been rejected. “We want to make it clear that we will not hold any meeting with Zalmay Khalilzad in Islamabad,” Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid had said in a statement.