US President Donald Trump has voiced optimism that Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan could help broker a political settlement to end the 18-year war in Afghanistan and held out the possibility of restoring aid to Islamabad.
“I think Pakistan is going to help us out to extricate ourselves,” Trump said, with Khan sitting next to him at the start of a White House meeting on Monday.
Trump spoke of possibly restoring $1.3bn in American aid that he had cut last year, depending upon the results of the meeting. He also offered to mediate in the Kashmir dispute between Pakistan and India.
The United States and Pakistan have a complicated relationship.
Trump last year complained on Twitter that the Pakistanis “have given us nothing but lies & deceit” and “give safe haven” to armed fighters. Pakistan has denied the accusations.
Khan, the former captain of the Pakistani cricket team who assumed office last year, fired back.
He tweeted that Pakistan had suffered 75,000 casualties and lost $123bn in the “US war on terror“, even though no Pakistanis were involved in the September 11 attacks. He said the US only provided a “minuscule” $20bn in aid.
Now, as the US negotiates for peace in Afghanistan, it is also trying to smooth tensions with Pakistan.
Reporting from Washington, Al Jazeera’s Mike Hanna said the meeting between Trump and Khan was “warm” where the two leaders had a “frank exchange of views”.
“The meeting indicated that the two leaders had come a long way since the vitriolic exchange of tweets last year,” he said.
“Imran Khan appeared satisfied with the fact that Trump had formally acknowledged the critical role Pakistan has played in advancing US interests in Afghanistan.”
Khan told Trump that a peace deal with the Taliban was closer than it had ever been.
“We hope that in the coming days we will be able to urge the Taliban to speak to the Afghan government and come to a settlement, a political solution,” Khan said in the Oval Office meeting when reporters were present.
Trump wants to wrap up US military involvement in Afghanistan and sees Pakistan’s cooperation as crucial to any deal to end the war and ensure the country does not become a base for groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS).
Washington wants Islamabad to pressure Afghanistan’s Taliban into a permanent ceasefire and participation in talks with the Afghan government.
The Pentagon said Pakistan’s army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, will meet the top American military officer, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford later on Monday.
Analysts believe Bajwa will play a key role in behind-the-scenes discussions, with the military looking to persuade Washington to restore aid and cooperation.