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COAS to accompany Imran Khan to US: Shah Mehmood

20 July, 2019

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WASHINGTON: Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi on Friday confirmed that Chief of the Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa will accompany Prime Minister Imran Khan during his visit to the White House on July 22 for a meeting with US President Donald Trump.

Briefing the Pakistani media on the visit, Mr Qureshi said the director general of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) would also come to Washington with the prime minister. The two military leaders would also have “separate meetings with their counterparts” at the US department of defence, he added.

Apparently, this will be the first time that the country’s top generals will accompany a prime minister to a White House meeting with the US president.

Diplomatic sources told Dawn that Gen Bajwa would meet Defence Secretary Patrick M. Shanahan, the new chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen Mark Milley and other senior officials during his visit to Pentagon.

This would be Gen Milley’s first meeting with a foreign military leader since his confirmation on Thursday by the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Commenting on the PM’s decision to bring top military officials to Washington, Marvin Weinbaum, a US scholar of South Asian affairs, said: “Policymakers in Washington have noticed that after a long time, Pakistan’s civil and military leaders are on the same page on key issues.”

Mr Weinbaum said Afghanistan and terrorism were two primary concerns of the Trump administration in South Asia, and they knew on such issues “no major decision can be implemented in Pakistan without the army’s support.”

FM Qureshi said it was “a good omen” for the country when asked about the rare decision regarding military leadership’s visit along with the PM. He said: “You know what was being said before. The political government wants a certain thing, the establishment does not... that there’s disconnect between the civilian and the military establishments... that they are not on the same page. Alhamdolillah, there’s no disconnect today. Both civil and military leaders are focusing on the country’s interests, on the challenges before us,” he added.

“We are moving ahead. We are grateful to our forces for such a responsible approach.”

Quoting a recent example of “this responsible approach and positive attitude”, Mr Qureshi recalled that recently the military had endorsed the government’s decision to freeze their budget. “There is a better understanding, no trust deficit, as there was in the past,” he added.

Diplomatic sources told Dawn that Mr Khan and his team would spend almost three hours at the White House, meeting President Trump and his aides.

Mr Qureshi said the PM would arrive at the White House on Monday morning and after the book signing ceremony, he would attend two sessions, a small group meeting and an extended meeting. The first meeting would be in the Oval Office and the second in the cabinet room. He would also have a one-on-one meeting with President Trump. The US leader would accompany him on a White House tour that would give them more time “to mingle and chat”, the foreign minister said.

The prime minister arrives in Washington on Saturday afternoon on a commercial flight and would stay at the ambassador’s residence in the city’s diplomatic enclave. In the evening, he would meet the people who have had a long association with the PTI and were also helping the party in organising the visit.

On Sunday, Mr Khan would meet IMF chief David Lipton and his delegation and would later have a similar meeting with the World Bank president. Later in the evening, he would attend a community event at Washington’s Capital One Arena. “We are expecting between 15,000 and 20,000 people,” said chief organizer of the event Dr Abdullah Riar.

His other engagements include a meeting of Pakistani-Americans investors, media interviews, addressing the US-Pakistani Business Council and a dinner meeting with selected leaders of America’s corporate sector.

On July 23, US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo would call on the PM. Mr Khan would also address a meeting at the US Institute of Peace and would have lunch with newspaper editors. Later, he would go to Capitol Hill for a meeting with the Foreign Relations Committee of Senate and later address the bipartisan Pakistani American Caucus. So far, 40-plus lawmakers have already signed up for this meeting.

PM Khan would also meet Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi before returning home on July 23.

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