AFP-JijiWASHINGTON (AFP-Jiji) — U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday hailed Pakistan’s help in advancing peace talks in Afghanistan, a marked shift in tone as the United States seeks an accord with the Taliban to end almost 18 years of war.
Speaking from the Oval Office alongside Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan, Trump also warned he could end the conflict in a matter of days through force and “Afghanistan would be wiped off the face of the Earth,” but preferred dialogue.
Pakistan was the Taliban’s chief sponsor when it took power in neighboring Afghanistan during the 1990s.
Its influence over the group, which has waged an insurgency since it was ousted from power by U.S.-led forces in 2001, is seen as key in facilitating a political settlement with the government of President Ashraf Ghani.
“We’ve made a lot of progress over the last couple of weeks, and Pakistan has helped us with that progress,” said Trump.
“A lot of things are happening for the United States, and I think a lot of great things are going to be happening for Pakistan under your leadership,” he added as he turned to face his counterpart.
The warm words and smiles signaled a clear reversal for the Republican president, who has in the past accused Pakistan of being duplicitous and last year cut $300 million in security aid.
Khan, on his first official trip to Washington, said: “I am one of those who always believed there was no military solution,” adding: “I have to compliment President Trump, because he has now forced people to end the war.”
Khan also referenced during the exchange “two hostages” about whom there would soon be “good news,” but it was not immediately clear whom he was referring to as there are no known American hostages in Pakistan.
Asked about the topic on a Fox News interview later, he said: “I think two or three American hostages, one Australian” were being held in Afghanistan and promised “good news in the next 48 hours.”
He may be referencing American Kevin King and Australian Timothy Weeks, who were abducted from the American University of Afghanistan in Kabul in 2016.
Asked about the fate of Shakeel Afridi, a doctor whose fake vaccination drive helped the CIA track Osama Bin Laden and whose release has long been sought by the United States, Khan sounded less enthused.
“This is a very emotive issue because in Pakistan he is considered a spy,” Khan told Bret Baier.
Following an exchange with a reporter, Trump also said he had been asked to mediate the decades-long Kashmir conflict by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and would be happy to help, but his claim was swiftly denied by New Delhi.
U.S. envoy heads to Afghanistan
Meanwhile, the United States peace envoy is en route to Afghanistan and then Qatar to resume negotiations with the Taliban and iron out a deal that could end nearly 18 years of military intervention, the State Department said Monday.
Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad left Monday for the mission lasting through Aug. 1 “as part of an overall effort to facilitate a peace process that ends the conflict in Afghanistan,” the State Department said in a statement.
In Kabul, he will discuss with the Afghan government the “next steps in the peace process, including identifying a national negotiating team that can participate in intra-Afghan negotiations,” the statement added.
Forming such a team is a fraught issue as the Taliban refuse to negotiate directly with the Afghan government.