WASHINGTON: Prime Minister Imran Khan is likely to visit the United States early next month, although both sides are still trying to finalise a date, diplomatic sources told Dawn.
“Likely, but not final yet,” said a senior diplomat when asked to comment on media reports that the prime minister might visit Washington on July 20.
Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi told reporters in Islamabad on Thursday that US President Donald Trump had invited the prime minister in June but he could not undertake the visit because of the budget session.
The foreign minister 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, which resumes in Doha on Saturday (today).
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.
Earlier this 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 Thursday, 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.
Both governments have been exploring the possibility of Mr Khan’s visit since January this year when President Trump said that a meeting with the new leadership in Pakistan could take place “very soon”.
The offer came days after his administration initiated peace talks with the Taliban in Doha. “So, I look forward to meeting with the new leadership in Pakistan.
“We will be doing that in the not too distant future,” he told reporters at the White House after a cabinet meeting which reviewed Pakistan’s support to the Afghan peace process.
Both the US and Pakistani diplomatic sources in Washington confirm that Mr Khan may visit Washington soon but they differ over its schedule.
Some sources say that Mr Khan is coming next month while others say that the meeting between the two leaders could take place in September when Mr Khan will travel to the US for the annual session of the UN General Assembly.
Published in Dawn, June 29th, 2019