IRSHAD SALIM — Prime Minister Khan (no longer ‘Taliban Khan’ to the West and their admirers in Pakistan) will be traveling to US to meet POTUS. Khan Sahib (as his admirers call him) will fly in a commercial flight– Qatar Airways, and as usual without a wallet or Rolex watch, and of course no chefs nor shopping list of personals.
Chances are he’ll be wearing Shalwar Kameez, Waist Coat and Peshawari Chappal– he may switch between Sherwani with Jinnah cap in between though. A predictable (graduated) Trump would be decked up of course and possibly wearing a red tie– his ‘soul mate’, with slightly greased hair thrown back unsuccessfully, and a 500 watts smile syncing with a controlled body language– to receive Khan to the White House. Cutting a deal in the Oval Office with one of the greatest cricket players-turned political leader would be a no-brainer for him. Khan calls a spade a spade and not apples and oranges. So does POTUS. That makes them two, and therefore a starter. Then comes the sweetener: Both have been wanting the war to end in Afghanistan. For POTUS, Khan’s behind the scene and on the screen efforts have been a hmmm– the icebreaker was Trump’s letter to Khan in November.
Trump has never watched the British game before I am told (but the info could be wrong). Nevertheless, with his recent blow hot and blow cold with London’s Mayor Sadiq Khan, POTUS would still probably stay away from watching the game, as between his hamburger meals and TV viewings he’s now focused on 2020– his next T20. Afghanistan end game therefore matters to him. So does to Khan.
If I am proven wrong, blame it on the ‘unpredictability cyclical mode’ the world and the region are witnessing. I took an intelligent guess. Rather than just covering a story or uncovering it– that’s The Washington Post domain though, I’m just blogging.
Khan Sahib (as many call the newly elected premier) will meet the US President during his first visit to Washington as head of state. He has been longing for two decades to become mover and shaker for the youth with ‘Naya Pakistan’ mantra just as Trump struck chord with ‘America First’ narrative in the bible belt, and among those who have been questioning the immigration policies of America for decades with no advocacy groups to empower them.
Khan seeks nothing (another guess) but peace in the region. POTUS have been advocating withdrawal. He said last week in a very matter of factly way that he will discuss ‘South Asia peace’ plus ‘enduring partnership’ with Khan. That’s more than a BBQ party or a stuffed Turkey dinner for Thanksgiving. In fact, the invite sounds more like a Walmart of plans and solutions that could probably gel peace and connectivity in the region with Pakistan’s equity assured.
Trump probably might have been briefed that more than four centuries back (1500s), it was a Pathan from Afghanistan who built the first China Pakistan Economic Corridor type East-West connectivity in the region– from Chittagong to Kabul– called the Grand Trunk Road (GT Road). The long meandering east-to-west corridor still serves as India’s strategic land ‘Suez’ and is akin to New York-Florida interstate highway 95. Guess what. Shershah Suri also introduced the Rupayyah (currency), rest areas, pit stops, reorganized postal centers, etc. all these without cops and toll plazas. Pretty impressive even by present performance standards. So POTUS and his team might have drawn inspiration from what a Pathan can deliver, if peace prevails, rather than their land being invaded and them being cornered.
The White House team might have also read what Khan told PM Modi: he was a Pathan and would honor any deal to resolve all disputes. My guess: yes.
So what’s the scoop then? Let’s try this one: Like the Formula 1 racing car, the American trek (0 to 60 sec) has completed racing since 1979. Another several full legs of the raceway and the driver has won the trophy!
And unlike Zia, Khan Sahib may be asked to cut the ribbon or wear the pagri. He had said he would partner with the US for peace, not war. Add to it, he told Modi if they resolved all issues he would smoke peace pipe with him. And he said he would wait till polls in India are over: Modi was -re-elected.
And, between US, Afghanistan and India, each of them is a common denominator for the other. It was only a matter of time and the right situation. Trump dusted off his pre-2016 election Afghan withdrawal battlecry to make it happen now.
Now the hard part: Who will ask who: ‘Show me the money (Jerry McGuire)’ and or ‘Where’s the beef (Wendy’s)’. Again, Trump has read in between the lines and threw AfInPak (South Asia) card back on the poker table. Nationalist Modi has won a second round with historical lead, and is ready to monetize his capital gains. Khan Sahib is at the right place at the right time– and carrying no baggage– he “never danced at the White House”, to quote the title of the book by great American humorist and syndicated (500 newspapers) columnist Art Buchwald.
I also won’t write off the feel that a grand Marshall Plan is in the works, along with a prolonged lunar landing. And so long as the neighborhood is not a Cherokee Tribe Reserve nor a gigantic gas station like the Middle East, the region’s multi-nationals’ nod could be a ‘why not’.
The US (anti-terror war) plan stakeholders in the region are already on board on single liner: anti-terror. So is Pakistan, and India, and even Iran on this matter. Therefore, it makes it easier for POTUS to talk of ‘enduring partnership’ with Pakistan– US has already partnered with India. All of them including India acknowledge that the only country in the region with anti-terror battle-tested military is Pakistan, other things being equal, and geopolitical whims and fancies notwithstanding– that’s the wild card though, as each one has to deal with the other in a multipolar powered dressing room.
In the region, this dynamics could be overcome by a broadstroke of anti-terror brush Pakistan holds.
That the upcoming visit would be the first summit-level engagement between the two countries since both leaders assumed their respective offices comes as US-Taliban talks enter critical stage.
POTUS and PM Khan both have been saying they look at the Afghan war needing an alley to park for ever. And both have stressed on political solution rather military. Trump has even said (2017) ‘we are not there for nation building but to defeat the terrorists and get out.” Khan has been saying Taliban are not terrorists. Savvy Trump has picked the ‘meeting of minds’ thing to his advantage. Having taken care of Al Qaeda and decimated the Daesh, the region feels Afghanistan real estate now is left with no terrorists– the Taliban plus the others in the north could do the bidding for peace and act as bulwark against the bad guys.
So the breakfast, lunch or dinner between the two could yield results and announcements.
That’s some of the good and not so bad parts we all may possibly hear about the Trump-Khan meet coming week– Ilhan Omar et al news and views in the US media notwithstanding. The “take care, cya, take it easy” and “oh of course, I hear you (with a nod), you got it, love it, etc.” plus Trump’s animated part of the discussions and talks with Khan Sahib could give away the clues.
Lastly, the not so ugly part is Haqqani-led team’s overdrive to dampen the spotlight on Khan and on Pakistan re-emerging on US good books– that’s happening (again) with Trump’s they are ‘good guys, good people’ narrative concurrent. A 2020 Trump rerun has been activated by the way. And Khan’s visit could be seen as a de ja vu for the POTUS.
Irshad Salim is a business consultant and analyst presently based in Islamabad.He’s also the Editor-in-Chief of despardes.com and pkonweb.com.