Is Imran Khan Going to be Trump’s Next Kim Jong-un?

This year, Donald Trump spoke of his relationship with DPRK (North Korea) Chairman Kim Jong-un as a loving friendship. This is as far as one can get from the realities of 2017 when Trump and Kim exchanged statements threatening to destroy the other’s country while offering insults to one another of the most personal nature. Yet during the same year which DPRK-US relations improved to their most positive levels in history, the Trump administration cut millions of Dollars worth of “aid” to Pakistan while grey-listing the country as a state sponsor of terrorism.

Recently, Trump and newly elected Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan conducted a Twitter battle during which Trump accused Pakistan of aiding and abetting terror while Imran fired back that no country has sacrificed as much in America’s so-called war on terror as has Pakistan since 2001. Yet today it has been revealed that Iman Khan received a letter from Donald Trump asking for Pakistan’s assistance in convincing the Afghan Taliban to come to the peace table in an attempt to bring some sort of conclusion to America’s longest war – its seventeen year long war in Afghanistan.

According to Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry:

“US President Donald Trump, in his letter addressed to Prime Minister Imran Khan, has stated that his most important regional priority was achieving a negotiated settlement of the Afghan war. In this regard, he has sought Pakistan’s support and facilitation. President Trump has also acknowledged that the war had cost both USA and Pakistan. He has emphasised that Pakistan and USA should explore opportunities to work together and renew partnership.

Peace and stability in Afghanistan remain a shared responsibility”.

The request is somewhat unusual as while Trump had previously accused Pakistan of enabling terror in the region, now his letter clearly suggests that Pakistan can play a vital role in an all-parties Afghan peace process. Thus, weeks after a heated Twitter battle between Imran and Trump, now it would appear that the US President has at least partly de-facto acknowledged Pakistan’s vital role in any lasting regional peace process.

Imran Khan later responded directly to Trump’s letter. Relevant parts of the statement were re-Tweeted by Imran’s PTI party. In this statements, Imran acknowledged that he is always ready to cooperate with any foreign power, but he also reiterated his long held positions regarding caution when dealing with powerful western countries. Imran also commented on the hypocrisy of the enemies of Pakistan who decry the alleged role of Pakistan’s military in politics even though such people forget the central role that the Pentagon plays in the United States:

Thus, Imran has clearly established that in any future negotiations with the US President, Pakistan will safeguard its interests and negotiate from a pragmatic position of strength and dignity.

If Trump’s letter does indeed hint at a wider rapprochement with Pakistan, it is necessary to further compare such a development to that which has transpired between the United States and the DPRK. Today, Trump considers the DPRK a partner albeit one with whom the US has sustained disagreements. Yet because the DPRK approached the peace process from a position of strength and diplomatic dignity, the US is now forced to accept that it cannot push the DPRK around under the guise of a unilateral peace process. Similarly, unlike his predecessors, Imran Khan has always fired back at the US when American officials insult Pakistan’s record on fighting terror while likewise, Imran has said that he welcomes a respect based co-equal partnership with the United States but that at the same time, the era of Pakistan’s submission to Washington is officially over.

Therefore, it can be concluded that rather than risk Pakistan’s relations with the US becoming increasingly frosty, Trump took the opportunity to reach out to Imran Khan after it became clear that Imran would not cave to US pressure. In other words, since bully-boy diplomacy would not work with an Imran Khan led Pakistan any more than with a Kim Jong-un lead DPRK, Trump took another course of action and approached Pakistan with a dignified request that could potentially help the Afghanistan situation immensely should Imran be able to convince the Afghan Taliban to sit at a table with its most hated adversaries.

While any such peace conference is a tall order as Russian diplomats have learned first hand over the last year as multiple attempts have been made by Moscow to convince the Taliban to sit in a neutral sitting opposite the Kabul government, it now seems that the US President has acknowledged something that has long been realised in both China and Russia – namely that no Afghan peace process is possible without Pakistan’s participation and positive cooperation.

It is a credit to Imran Khan’s new style of politics that the US appears to have realised such a reality at this particular point in time. While America’s outreach to Pakistan in the form of the Trump letter to Imran does not mean that the US is backtracking on its regionally controversial partnership with India, what it does mean is that some policy makers in Washington much have realised that one cannot send Indian officials to accomplish something that can clearly only be accomplished with the support of Pakistani diplomats.

As Imran Khan is a far more worldly leader than his predecessors, perhaps Trump will grow to respect him as a true original just as he has done the same with his former adversary Kim Jong-un.

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