Khan says to work with US on Taliban

‘SAME PAGE’::The prime minister said that Pakistan would not host militant groups and that he would try to get the Taliban to speak with Afghanistan’s government

AP, WASHINGTON

Thu, Jul 25, 2019 - Page 7

After years of tension between Washington and Islamabad, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan on Tuesday insisted that the two are now on the same page, saying that he would do his best to persuade the Taliban to open negotiations with the Afghan government to resolve the war.

The US has been engaging with the Taliban, which has refused to talk directly to the Afghan government, which it sees as a puppet.

Afghans are wary of Pakistan’s involvement in crafting a future for their country, but Khan said that the Taliban needs to participate in the next Afghan presidential election in September.

“It’s not easy. It’s not going to be easy,” Khan said about getting the Taliban and the Afghan government to the negotiating table.

Khan said that the Taliban delegation to the US negotiations asked to meet with him a few months ago, probably because the prime minister has maintained that there is no military solution to the war in Afghanistan.

He said at the time that he did not agree to a meeting because the Afghan government did not want him meeting with the Taliban.

However, Khan said that he has spoken with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and that he would reach out to the militant group when he returns to Pakistan.

On Monday, Khan met with US President Donald Trump at the White House.

“Now, I will meet the Taliban and I will try my best to get them to talk to the Afghan government,” Khan said at the US Institute of Peace in Washington. “The election in Afghanistan must be an inclusive election where the Taliban are also participating.”

With all the talk about peace negotiations, Afghans were stunned on Monday when Trump said that he could unleash the US military and wipe Afghanistan off “the face of the earth” in a week or 10 days.

Trump’s casual comments were viewed with alarm, because the war has not been between the US and Afghanistan. For years, Afghan security forces have fought alongside their US and NATO partners against the Taliban.

Ghani’s office on Tuesday asked Trump to clarify his statement and said that Afghanistan would never “allow any foreign power to determine its fate.”

Afghans also are wary of statements coming from Pakistan. For years, they have accused Pakistan of creating instability in their country by giving militants a safe place from which to stage attacks across the two countries’ long, porous border.

Washington has also blamed Pakistan for harboring the insurgency, making it impossible to defeat the militants, who now control about half of Afghanistan, but not the cities.

Khan insisted that Pakistan is changing.

“It is the intent of Pakistan that we do not allow any armed militias in our country,” he said, acknowledging that they still reside in the country, but that the army was working to disarm them.

A senior Trump administration official said on condition of anonymity that the US welcomed Khan’s pledge that Pakistan would not allow its soil to be used by militant groups, but added that the administration was “clear-eyed” about the support that Pakistan’s military and intelligence services have given to militant groups and would look for “concrete action.”

Khan said that his meeting with Trump went well and that he believes the US and Pakistan are now “on the same page.”

“We loved our meeting with President Trump yesterday,” Khan said in a morning meeting with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. “I told the president, I said: ‘I’ve been a public guy for 40 years, and so when you go meet someone who is high-profile, you get a lot of advice.’ Never have I gotten so much advice.”

Warming relations would mark a turnaround for Khan and Trump, who has been sharply critical of the South Asian country.

The administration of former US president Barack Obama increased military and economic aid to Pakistan to about US$3 billion per year, but Trump cut it to about US$70 million in the current fiscal year, saying that the US was sending money to Pakistan, but was getting only “lies” in return.

Khan said that he did not ask Trump to restore the aid, which he said had created a “dependency syndrome” in Pakistan.

He said that he wants Pakistan to have a “dignified” relationship with the US based on “mutual trust,” adding that he never felt more humiliated than when the US carried out the raid on al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden’s compound inside Pakistan without giving Islamabad a heads-up.

“Our ally didn’t trust us,” Khan said. “For every Pakistani, it was humiliating.”