The Stakes For Pakistan Prime Minister's D.C. Trip
LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
Tomorrow, President Trump will welcome Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan to the White House. Prime Minister Khan won election last year after charting an unusual path to political power as a former cricket captain and an international playboy. Both countries have an agenda for this meeting. Farahnaz Ispahani is a former member of the Pakistani Parliament and a global fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center here in D.C., and she joins me now in the studio. Welcome.
FARAHNAZ ISPAHANI: Thank you so much.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So what are the stakes here? President Trump has used very harsh language when addressing Pakistan over the past two years, and now there is this invitation.
ISPAHANI: Well, this is very obvious. The U.S. and President Trump in particular have had no interest in Pakistan. In fact, President Trump has tweeted against Pakistan, called it a hub of terrorist groups. But what has changed today is that the U.S. needs Pakistan for a specific purpose. The U.S. attempt to bring about peace in Afghanistan and utilizing the terrorist group the Taliban to do it is in shambles. And so as a last-ditch effort, President Trump has invited Prime Minister Khan because he knows that Prime Minister Khan and, in fact, the Pakistani military and intelligence services are the people who have been closest - in fact, that were instrumental in helping the Taliban come into creation.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah, Prime Minister Khan will be joined also by Pakistan's head of intelligence and the head of the military. That obviously seems significant in the context of these negotiations in Afghanistan and the Pakistani military's role in them.
ISPAHANI: It is unprecedented, and it just shows what a figurehead Prime Minister Khan is. Never in the history of Pakistani-U.S. relationships has a Pakistani prime minister come to Washington, being escorted by the army chief and the chief spy. And the reason for this is the meeting with Prime Minister Khan is all optics. What's going to go on behind the scenes is the Pakistani military is going to beg for toys for the boys and improvement in the relationship because the economy is in shambles. And that is also affecting the Pakistani military.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So what you seem to be saying is that, on the American side, they want help with these negotiations with the Taliban. And on the Pakistani side, they want a closer military relationship, which means weapons and other things and also money for the economy. How likely are both sides to get what they want?
ISPAHANI: Pakistan has gone all out. I mean, they have come out, and they have purportedly jailed Hafiz Saeed, the head of the Lashkar-e-Taiba, which is responsible for hundreds of lives lost in Mumbai 10 years ago in the Mumbai attacks. But it's all a smoke screen because the gentleman has been in and out of jail over the last 10 years. He's been at public rallies. So...
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah, he's been living quite comfortably in the country, and the timing of this arrest seems quite opportune.
ISPAHANI: It's completely opportune. But the most serious thing is this - Prime Minister Khan has more journalists today under pressure. Media is gagged. We have two sitting former prime ministers and one former president in jail at this time. So from the point of view of the Pakistani people, this is really a very hurtful time to be inviting Prime Minister Khan and giving him center stage. But it shows the desperation on the part of the U.S. government because the Afghan peace talks, much doubted, are floundering.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: What will you be watching for at this meeting? Is there anything specific that might indicate that an agreement has been reached? And what will be, you know, beneficial for both countries?
ISPAHANI: Basically, I think the ask on the U.S. side is going to be very clear. And it may be said publicly, but it's definitely going to be said privately. The Taliban has still been carrying out suicide bomb attacks on children's schools, of places of worship, et cetera. So the U.S. is going to ask Pakistan - tell them to calm down. Rein in the Taliban. But Pakistan - do we know whether they still have the ability to do so? We're not sure. So this is, unfortunately, two democracies meeting without too many democratic issues on the table.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Farahnaz Ispahani is a global fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center and a former Pakistani parliamentarian. Thank you very much.
ISPAHANI: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.