ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan will jet off to the United States on Sunday hoping the arrest of Jamaatud Dawa (JuD) chief Hafiz Muhammad Saeed and progress in the Afghan peace talks will help secure a favorable reception.
Khan is expected to try to mend fences and attract much-needed investment during his meeting with US President Donald Trump in exchange for assurances of full cooperation in ending the war in Afghanistan and fighting militant threats.
Trump, a property developer turned reality TV star, and Khan, World Cup-winning captain of the Pakistan cricket team, both came to office after achieving fame away from politics and the personal chemistry between the two may be decisive.
“A lot will depend on the kind of mood that President Trump and indeed Prime Minister Imran Khan find themselves in,” said Farzana Sheikh, an associate fellow at the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London.
“Neither of them is known to be particularly predictable,” Sheikh observed.
Battling to stave off a balance of payments crisis and forced to seek a bailout from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Pakistan is badly in need of foreign investment but security is likely to be the main focus of the visit.
Khan will be accompanied by Chief of the Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa. Analysts believe he will play a key role in behind-the-scenes discussions where much of the serious business of the visit will take place, with the military looking to persuade Washington to restore aid and cooperation.
“It’s a visit which is closely being monitored by the military which is in desperate need for money,” said author and analyst Ayesha Siddiqa.
Last year, Trump cut off hundreds of millions of dollars in security assistance to Pakistan, accusing Islamabad of offering “nothing but lies and deceit” while giving safe haven to terrorists, a charge angrily rejected by Islamabad.
But Khan will believe the arrest on Wednesday of Hafiz Saeed, will send the right signals to Trump, who exuberantly welcomed the news on Twitter.
Trump said Saeed’s arrest “after a 10-year search”, was the “result of pressure” from his administration on Pakistan to “get tougher on militants”.
But Saeed has been in and out of Pakistan prisons for the last decade and even addressed public rallies.
As well as assurances that it is cracking down on militants, Khan is likely to stress Pakistan’s role in bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table with the United States.
Trump has made no secret of his desire to end US military involvement in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s cooperation will be essential to any deal to end the war and ensure the country does not become a base for militant groups like ISIS.
“The United States, Russia, and China know that without Pakistan’s co-operation, there can be no settlement in Afghanistan,” Sheikh said.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister’s Special Assistant on Information Firdous Ashiq Awan said that the premier will leave for the visit through a commercial flight along with a small delegation.
In a series of tweets, Awan said: “The Prime Minister will protect the interests of Pakistan and its people during this important visit, the past rulers used to protect their personal financial interests during the foreign visits.”