'An unintended PR win for Islamabad': What analysts, journalists had to say about PM's trip to US

Some call it a 'huge win', others feel some 'sore points' could have been avoided.
Published July 24, 2019

Prime Minister Imran Khan's three-day visit to the United States — which included a jalsa at the Capital One Arena, a meeting with President Donald Trump and an event at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) — ended earlier today. While the visit was met with some criticism, especially by the political leadership in Pakistan, it was largely viewed as a diplomatic win for the premier.

Lawyer and author Babar Sattar said Prime Minister Imran should be given "the credit that he deserves".

"That Imran Khan is helping reset PK ties with US (led by an unpredictable/erratic POTUS) is excellent foreign policy news."

BBC journalist Secunder Kermani said that the premier "must be very happy with how the trip had gone".

"Get acknowledgement of Pakistani help in facilitating US-Taliban talks, check. Get some commitments on reintroducing security aid/boosting trade, check. Rile up India, check."

Analyst Mosharraf Zaidi termed the trip as "another solid performance by PM", adding that while one may not agree with everything the premier had said, "he has been an effective messenger on this trip (save at Capital One Arena)".

Zaidi said Prime Minister Imran had been "reserved, charming and surprisingly thoughtful" at the White House, in his Fox News interview and at the USIP talk.

Addressing a large crowd at a community event at Washington's Capital One Arena on his first day in the US, the premier had gone after opposition leaders and threatened to 'take away' their prison facilities. "They will stay there as long as they do not return the money they have looted," Imran had thundered to a charged audience.

Journalist Zahid Hussain, in his column 'Moving Forward', noted that while the visit to Washington helped "thaw Pakistan’s relations with the US", there were some "sore points that could have been avoided", referring to Imran Khan's speech at Capital One Arena.

"His speech threatening opposition leaders was unbecoming of a leader representing the country," wrote Hussain.

Trump-Imran look like 'old friends'

On July 22, Prime Minister Imran met Trump at the White House for their first and closely watched one-on-one meeting.

Providing a review of PM Imran's trip to the US, AFP reporter Issam Ahmed said that Trump and Imran "looked like old friends, all smiles and mutual praise", which he said was a "huge contrast to Trump's consistent criticism of Pakistan in the past that had raised the prospect of pariahdom".

Journalist Zarrar Khuhro was among those who were expecting the two leaders would get along.

To the surprise of many analysts — and particularly India — in the meeting with Prime Minister Imran, the US president offered to mediate the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan. "If I can help, I would love to be a mediator," he said.

It was hailed to be a "HUGE win" for Pakistan by Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Vipin Narang.

Following the meeting, analyst Michael Kugelman said that it was an "unintended PR win for Islamabad".

"At any rate, my main takeaway is that Trump's comments here, for the most part, are EXACTLY what Pakistan wanted to hear."

Imran Khan 'hit a brisky century'

On Tuesday, the premier delivered an address at the USIP, during which he impressed upon the audience that Pakistan seeks a "dignified relationship with the US" which is not curtailed by the securing or withdrawal of aid.

Twitterati applauded the premier's remarks but called out his response to a question about press freedom, in which he claimed "the Pakistani media is freer than the British media".

Wall Street Journal journalist Sadanand Dhume said: "In cricketing terms, Khan hit a brisk century on a tricky pitch in DC and claimed a few wickets as well. #ImranKhanUSIP"

However, Dhume termed the premier's remarks about the Pakistani media as a "whopper".

In her tweet, journalist Amber Rahim Shamsi added: "Pity we don’t see more of this IK in relation to domestic politics."

The premier was also criticised for his remarks — made during his meeting with President Trump — on press freedom in Pakistan.

Imran had said: "To say that there are curbs on Pakistani press is a joke".

Senior journalist Hamid Mir said: "What was the most asked question to @ImranKhanPTI in US? It was about censorship on media. Our PM spoke very well on many issues but failed to give satisfactory answers on questions about media [...] he is helping his enemies by fighting with media."

Journalist Sana Bucha had a more sarcastic reaction to the comment, saying: “Media is free in Pakistan. And fish can fly. And birds can’t. The world is flat. A ball is actually a square. The sky is not blue."

Uproar in Indian media

Indian media, which was immediately in an uproar following Trump's remarks on Narendra Modi asking him to mediate on the Kashmir conflict, viewed the interaction between the US and Pakistani leader with apprehension.

'US courtship of Pakistan amplifies India’s challenge' read the headline of a column in Hindustan Times.

"The United States (US) has quietly replaced its threat of sanctions against Pakistan with renewed engagement — and rewards. Desperate to finalise a 'peace' deal with the brutal and thuggish Taliban, President Donald Trump is wooing its sponsor, Pakistan, to help the US 'extricate ourselves' from Afghanistan."

An editorial in The Hindu, titled 'Kashmir mediation: Trump has violated diplomatic protocols', noted: "A more worrying proposition is that Mr. Trump took the line favoured by his Pakistani interlocutors on Kashmir as a way of enhancing his own plans for a pullout from Afghanistan with Pakistan’s help on security and talks with the Taliban."

A piece in Firstpost, 'The cloak, the dagger and the loudspeaker: Indiscreet Donald Trump has done greater damage to Kashmir issue', criticised the US president saying he did more damage than good.

"Trump's inability to keep private conversations private will, without doubt, hurt whatever processes are now underway, involving his country, Pakistan and India. His loud mouth, though, shouldn't be allowed to demolish them."

The Print said Donald Trump had "deliberately lied" but that India brought this upon itself. 'Trump is no fool & this is why he deliberately lied about Modi’s Kashmir request' reads: "There is no conclusion other than that India has brought this upon itself. It should have read the warning signs, it didn’t.

"There should be no doubt that Trump has done this to extract a price. How steep that price will be, shall be determined by what Trump believes: the reality of the Indian economy or Modi’s hype. In the end, Modi may very well end up becoming a victim of his own successful marketing campaign."