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July 31, 2019

A successful visit

Opinion

July 31, 2019

Last week Prime Minister Imran Khan completed his first visit to the US since coming into office. All indications are that the trip was a great success, even though it is hard to know what all was discussed between him and the US president and what agreements may have been reached.

At a minimum, it appears Prime Minister Khan and President Trump developed good chemistry between them, which is as important as anything of substance during this administration in Washington.

Beyond the meetings in the White House, which were well covered by the US media, there were two other events that really stood out. First, and it was truly a first, was a large ‘jalsa’ like event held for the Pakistani-American community. It was organized in a large sports arena that holds upwards of 20,000 people and it was pretty much packed to capacity.

The enthusiasm among the crowd was palpable. It was also very encouraging to see the prime minister speak extemporaneously and cover many topics of interest about Pakistan. From Pakistan’s financial concerns to regional conflicts to the matter of dealing with corruption in the country.

Most of us who have lived in the US for many years continue to feel connected to the homeland and watch with some trepidation as most of the news from the country is discouraging. At a minimum, the prime minister gave the audience a sense of competence and some confidence that things will move in the right direction.

All of us in the Pakistani diaspora community in the US understand how difficult the country’s financial and security circumstances are. So we are ready to cling to any sign of hope, and good news. I think on that front the prime minister used the large setting to very good effect.

The second event that really stood out was the prime minister’s visit to the US Institute for Peace (USIP), a prominent think tank funded by the US Congress and very well respected in Washington DC. Before a ‘by invitation only’ audience of senior officials, past and present, and other luminaries, Prime Minister Imran Khan was invited to share his thinking about the direction of the country, and his aims and priorities. The event was webcast live.

The prime minister addressed the group for about 20 minutes, again giving a strong impression of confidence and competence. It was particularly refreshing to those of us from Pakistan to see the leader address such an august audience with clarity and confidence. Following his talk, he was interviewed by the president of the USIP Nancy Lindborg.

Over the course of an hour or so, she covered a wide range of topics, but particularly focused on Afghanistan and the talks with the Taliban to end the conflict. I was impressed with how well Imran Khan handled questions on delicate issues, always with clarity and candor, yet sensitivity to the position of the hosts.

He was also asked about the US-Iran tensions. Once again, keeping in mind the viewpoint of the United States, but also of the governments of Saudi Arabia and the UAE, he made his views clear: “we are deeply indebted to Saudi Arabia and UAE for their friendship and support”, he said, “but a war in the region will be a disaster for everyone, including Pakistan”. Very well spoken. I hope senior officials of the Trump White House were watching.

The new government in Pakistan seems to have made a good beginning. Now we all wait to see what results they are able to deliver.

The writer is a freelance contributor based in Washington DC.

Website: www.sqshareef.com/ blogs

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