Prime Minister Imran Khan will meet United States President Donald Trump on July 22, Foreign Office Spokesperson Dr Mohammad Faisal said on Thursday.
Dr Faisal, during his weekly media briefing, said that the premier will be visiting Washington on the invitation of President Trump. During the premier’s visit, the focus will be on further improving the ties between the two countries, added the spokesperson.
This will be Imran Khan’s first visit to the US since assuming power last year following PTI’s victory in the general elections.
The confirmation of the meeting between the two leaders comes a day after the US State Department on Tuesday designated the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) as a global terrorist group, paving the way for similar actions by the United Nations and other states. The same day, it was reported that top 13 leaders of the banned Jamaatud Dawa (JuD), including its chief Hafiz Saeed and Naib Emir Abdul Rehman Makki, have been booked in nearly two dozen cases for terror financing and money laundering under the Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997.
The United States, which has pressured Pakistan to crack down on militant groups, has offered a $10 million reward for evidence leading to Saeed’s conviction.
Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi had told reporters last month that President Trump had invited the prime minister in June but he could not undertake the visit because of the budget session.
The foreign minister had also said that talks between the two leaders would focus on “important regional matters”. Pakistan has helped the United States in jumpstarting the ongoing US-Taliban dialogue.
Earlier on January 3, Trump had told a cabinet meeting that he wanted “to have a great relationship with Pakistan, but they house the enemy, they take care of the enemy”.
“We just can’t do that. So, I look forward to meeting with the folks from — and the new leadership in Pakistan, we’ll be doing that in the not-too-distant future,” he had said.
Then in March, Trump had said he hoped to meet Pakistani leaders soon as he acknowledged that relations between the two countries are “now very good”.
“Pakistan — we’ll be meeting with Pakistan [leadership]. I think our relationship right now is very good with Pakistan,” he said.
Islamabad’s role in Afghan peace process
Trump was consistent in his criticism of Pakistan after launching his South Asia and Afghanistan strategy in 2017.
In November 2018, a row that began with Trump’s interview to Fox News had led to a series of tweets by both the US head of state and Prime Minister Imran.
President Trump, while talking about the reasons for ending the over a billion dollar annual aid for Pakistan at the beginning of 2018, had said the country didn’t do “a damn thing for us”.
Subsequently, Prime Minister Imran had led the sharp reaction by political leaders to Trump’s tirade against Pakistan by hinting at review of foreign policy options and asking the US president to introspect on the real reasons for America’s failure in Afghanistan.
Trump’s stance, however, softened the next month with him acknowledging in a letter to the premier that the “war had cost both US and Pakistan”.
Trump, in the letter, sought the government’s “assistance and facilitation in achieving a negotiated settlement of the Afghan war”.
The United States now wants Islamabad to use its influence to persuade the Taliban to hold direct talks with the Afghan government.
The militants refuse to talk to Kabul, saying that it’s a “puppet government”, with no real powers.
Last week, Pakistan hosted an intra-Afghan meeting in Bhurban, which was seen as the first step towards making the Afghan government more acceptable to the militants.
Kabul sent its representatives to the meeting, although the Taliban opted to stay out.
On June 27, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani also visited Islamabad to seek its support for opening a communication link to the Taliban.
Diplomatic observers in Washington say that such efforts seem to have convinced the Trump administration that Islamabad is seriously supporting its efforts for a negotiated settlement in Afghanistan.
“Washington feels that a White House visit, at this stage, would further encourage Islamabad to continue supporting the Afghan peace process,” one of the observers said.