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Trump to press Pakistan’s Khan on Afghan peace during Washington visit

U.S. Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo participates in a meeting with Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan in Islamabad, Pakistan on September 5, 2018. (U.S. State Department/Released)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

U.S. President Donald Trump will push Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan to fight terrorist groups inside his country and support the Afghan peace process as two leaders meet for the first time in Washington.

Khan, a cricket star who won election last year, will make his first official visit to the U.S. capital on July 22.

The Pakistani leader will be accompanied by his top military leader and intelligence officer, a clear indication the war in Afghanistan and terrorism will dominate the bilateral talks.

In addition to Trump, they also will meet with U.S. officials from the departments of defense, security, energy, and treasury.

Khan’s visit comes amid frayed relations with the United States, which is seeking to bring stability to Afghanistan and end the war there that has lasted nearly 18 years. The assistance of Pakistan, which neighbors Afghanistan, is key to achieving a resolution, U.S. officials have said.

“The purpose of [Khan’s] visit is to press for concrete cooperation from Pakistan to advance the Afghanistan peace process and to encourage Pakistan to deepen and sustain its recent effort to crack down on militants and terrorists with its territory,” a senior Trump official told reporters.

The United States and Afghanistan have repeatedly accused Pakistan of providing “safe havens” for the Taliban on its soil and undermining its efforts to bring stability. Trump cut financial and military aid to Islamabad as a result. Pakistan has rejected the allegations, which led to a spat between Khan and Trump over Twitter last year.

Farahnaz Ispahani, a former member of Pakistan’s parliament and a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, said in an interview with NPR that the Trump administration wants the meeting because the Afghan peace process “is in shambles.”

“And so as a last-ditch effort, President Trump has invited Khan because he knows that Khan and, in fact, the Pakistani military and intelligence services are the people who have been closest — in fact, that were instrumental in helping the Taliban come into creation,” she said.

​However, in a move some analysts view as a concession to Washington ahead of the trip, Pakistan arrested Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, the founder of the terrorist group that carried out the deadly 2008 attacks in Mumbai, India. It is about the seventh time that Pakistani forces have arrested Saeed.

“We would look to see that Pakistan is taking sustained action and actually prosecuting these people. Quite frankly, the previous arrests of Saeed haven’t made a difference,” the senior official said.

In addition to locking up individuals it considers terrorists, the Trump administration will also be asking Khan to free political prisoners, including Shakil Afridi, the Pakistani physician who helped the United States identify Osama bin Laden.

“Pakistan’s leadership will be judged by its treatment of Dr. Afridi while he remains in prison,” the senior official said, adding the doctor is a “hero” in the United States.

Trump, who is running for reelection in 2020, has promised to pull out American troops.

The Trump administration will also press Pakistan on press freedoms and permitting nongovernment organizations (NGOs) to freely operate. Islamabad deregistered 18 NGOs in October 2018.

“We think that the impacts of deregistering them will have a deleterious impact on their democratic institutions and civil society,” the senior administration official said.

Business talks, including energy, will also be on Trump’s agenda with Khan. The United States is interested in a trade mission to Islamabad to discuss supplies of liquefied natural gas and gas infrastructure development, the senior official said.

The U.S. is the world’s largest producer of natural gas and will account for about half the growth in global gas exports over the next six years, according to the International Energy Agency.