- The Washington Times
Monday, July 22, 2019

President Trump said Monday that he could wipe Afghanistan “off the face of the Earth” in one week, but instead he is counting on Pakistan to help him negotiate a peaceful end to the 17-year-old war.

Inside the Oval Office, he leaned on Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan to bring the Taliban to the table and even offered to try to mediate Islamabad’s long-standing fight with India over the Kashmir region.

“I think Pakistan is going to help us out to extricate ourselves,” Mr. Trump said of Afghanistan. “We’re like policemen. We’re not fighting a war.”

In return, Mr. Khan is seeking investments, better relations between their countries and the resumption of vital aid that Mr. Trump cut last year.

Mr. Trump’s meeting with Mr. Khan was his latest instance of expressing frustration with the length of the conflict and underscored the hurdles to ending the war.

He said the U.S. military is scaling back its presence in Afghanistan as he tries to negotiate a firm end to the conflict, which began in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

“If we wanted to fight a war in Afghanistan and win it, I could win that war in a week. I just don’t want to kill 10 million people,” Mr. Trump said. “Afghanistan would be wiped off the face of the Earth. It would be over literally in 10 days, and I don’t want to go that route.”

Mr. Khan, who was elected last year, and Mr. Trump are trying to improve a rocky relationship. The U.S. suspended $800 million in aid last year for what it said was Pakistan’s refusal to confront terrorist networks operating in the South Asian nation.

Mr. Trump said Pakistan had been taking U.S. money without curtailing Islamist and militant groups operating in the country.

“They were really, I think, subversive,” Mr. Trump said, though he took pains not to blame Mr. Khan. “This is before you,” he told the prime minister.

Mr. Khan, a former cricket star, wants the aid to resume and wants the U.S. to help him avoid sanctions from the Financial Action Task Force, an intergovernmental organization that pressures nations to combat money laundering.

Mr. Trump is eager for Mr. Khan to use his influence to bring the Taliban to the table in talks with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.

“The U.S. wants Pakistan to continue leveraging its influence with the Taliban to get the Taliban to agree to a cease-fire and to talks with the Ghani government,” said Akhil Bery, an analyst for the Eurasia Group, a political risk firm. “And the U.S. will continue to press Pakistan to curb militants within its borders.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican who has been one of the most prominent opponents of a quick withdrawal from Afghanistan, said economic partnership could be the sweetener for all sides.

“If the Taliban are denied sanctuary in Pakistan, this war will end quickly and on our terms,” Mr. Graham said. “It is my hope that we can negotiate a free trade agreement between the United States and Pakistan, which would be of mutual economic benefit and an incentive to maintain stability in the region.”

Mr. Khan appeared to soften the ground ahead of his visit to the U.S. by announcing the arrest of Hafiz Saeed on charges related to the 2008 terrorist attack on Mumbai, India.

Mr. Trump hailed the move in a tweet last week and struck a positive note about Afghan negotiations from the Oval Office.

“It’s the closest we have been to a peace deal, and we hope in the coming days we will be able to urge the Taliban to talk,” said Mr. Khan, adding that there “is no military solution.”

The Pakistani leader had a mediation request of his own: He asked Mr. Trump for assistance in the standoff with India over the contested Kashmir region. The U.S. president seemed interested and noted that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a similar request.

Analysts were skeptical.

Aparna Pande, director of the Hudson Institute’s Initiative on the Future of India and South Asia, said U.S. presidents have offered to mediate over Kashmir for decades, to no avail, and India has a long-standing policy to negotiate the issue bilaterally.

“I don’t see it going it anywhere,” Ms. Pande said.

Raveesh Kumar, a spokesman for the Indian Ministry of External Affairs, denied that Mr. Modi had asked Mr. Trump for help. “No such request has been made,” he tweeted.

Mr. Trump was asked whether he would raise the issue of Dr. Shakil Afridi, who ran a fake vaccination program that helped Americans track down Osama bin Laden to his hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

The president said he would.

“We have two or three hostages that we’re talking about. That’s one of the gentlemen that we have heard about,” Mr. Trump said.

Mr. Khan then interjected to say he had “good news about the two hostages,” though he didn’t elaborate.

Mr. Trump said the two nations can repair their relationship by cooperating on Afghanistan.

“I think Pakistan is going to do a lot. I really do,” Mr. Trump said. “I think Pakistan will save millions of lives in Afghanistan. They have a power that other nations don’t have with respect to Afghanistan.”

Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, Pakistan’s chief of Army staff, attended the Washington meeting with Mr. Khan in a sign that civilian and military leadership are aligned on the issue.

“But ultimately,” Mr. Bery said, “the U.S. will look for tangible action before deciding whether to accept what Pakistan is saying.”

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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