Engaging President Trump

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It is notoriously difficult to engage the attention of President Trump regarding anything as complex as the regional problems associated with the ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan. He likes to keep things simple, it is said. Thus it is that we extend a welcome hedged with caveats to the reported attempts at brokerage by US Republican Senator Lindsay Graham who has visited Pakistan.

On Sunday 20thJanuary he said that he would urge President Trump to meet with Prime Minister Imran Khan and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in an effort to support US attempts to make peace in Afghanistan.

Roads do not get much rockier than the Afghan peace process. Countless attempts have been made since the invasion that overthrew the Taliban to bring peace to a country that has known little but conflict for the best part of a generation. Thus far every attempt has failed completely, and nothing has come close to quelling the warring parties or persuading them to do anything other than fight and kill one-another.

Senator Graham does not expand on exactly how a meeting between the PM and Presidents Ghani and Trump would change any of the dynamics beyond a feeling that our PM and the US president would ‘hit it off’ because the PM is also something of an iconoclast – at least on paper – and an ‘agent of change’ that had the potential to be ‘a new partner’. To that end President Trump is to be asked to meet our PM who has declared strong support for a peace deal in Afghanistan, and political resolutions to the many issues that have consistently disabled attempts to broker peace.

Interestingly and a day after the Senator made his suggestion Foreign Policy magazine – itself regarded as influential by many on the right wing of global politics – included Imran Khan in its list of 100 influential thinkers for 2019.

The ensuing levity of assorted social media platforms aside, this inclusion is an indicator that external views of Pakistan and its current leader may not chime with some of those expressed internally, and considering the antipathy strongly expressed by President Trump towards Pakistan anything that can be deployed to mitigate the downside of that has to be viewed positively.

These are uncharted waters especially for our PM who with the best will in the world is hardly seen as the most experienced of international statesmen. His statecraft is limited, mostly because he has had so little exposure, and how he would handle a meeting – or meetings – with President Trump is unknown. On the face of it they have little in common and it is doubtful that President Trump even knows what cricket is never mind understanding what silly-mid-off might be.

It is likewise unknown with any certainty just how influential Pakistan is in respect of the several Taliban brands in play which are themselves combative and factionalised.  Most commentators opine that Pakistan influence with the Taliban has waned in recent years but we still have leverage. Whether this can be parlayed into attracting the attention of President Trump is anybody’s guess, but the suggestion that it might, coming from a man who is said to be ‘influential’ with President Trump brings a whiff of validity to the proposal. We await developments.

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