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US to press Pakistan on Afghan peace, terrorism crackdown

Prime Minister Imran Khan on Sunday (early Monday morning) addressed a gathering of around 30,000 people, mostly Pakistani-Americans, in Washington’s Capital One Arena ahead of his meetings at the White House, including a one-on-one meeting with US President Donald Trump.

According to reports, the venue had an official seating capacity of 20,000, but thousands more jam-packed the arena, making his public gathering the largest gathering of overseas Pakistanis in Washington DC. US President Donald Trump is likely to press Prime Minister Imran Khan for help on ending the war in Afghanistan and fighting militants when the two leaders meet at the White House today (Monday) amid their countries’ strained relations.

Last year, Trump cut off hundreds of millions of dollars in security assistance to Pakistan, accusing Islamabad of offering “nothing but lies and deceit” while giving safe haven to terrorists, a charge angrily rejected by Islamabad.

Imran, who arrived in Washington on Saturday, is expected to try to mend fences and attract much-needed US investment, hoping the arrest last week of Hafiz Saeed will lead to a warmer reception. “The purpose of the visit is to press for concrete cooperation from Pakistan to advance the Afghanistan peace process and to encourage Pakistan to deepen and sustain its recent effort to crack down on militants and terrorists within its territory,” a senior US administration official said.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the United States wants to make clear to Pakistan that it is open to repairing relations if Pakistan changes how it handles “terrorists and militants”.

In Afghanistan, the official said, the peace process is at a critical point and Washington wants Pakistan “to pressure the Taliban into a permanent ceasefire and participation in inter-Afghan negotiations that would include the Afghan government”.

Trump wants to end US military involvement in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s cooperation will be essential to any deal to end the war and ensure the country does not become a base for militant groups like Islamic State.

Imran’s visit follows the arrest on Wednesday of Hafiz Saeed, news that Trump welcomed on Twitter.

However, Pakistan has yet to release Shakil Afridi, the jailed doctor believed to have helped the CIA hunt down Osama bin Laden. The imprisonment of Dr Shakil Afridi has long been a source of tension between Pakistan and the United States. Washington continues to call for his immediate release, the US official told reporters on Friday.

Meanwhile, in a meeting at the Pakistani Embassy in Washington, Imran invited businessmen and investors in the US to benefit from economic and business opportunities in Pakistan.

Former Ambassador Munir Akram accompanied by Shahal Khan, a leading American investor of Pakistani origin, called on the premier at the embassy “to discuss trade and investment avenues in Pakistan”, according to the party’s official Twitter account.

Imran also met Tahir Javed, a Texas-based Pakistani businessman and a member of the Democratic Party, Javaid Anwar, a Pakistani American businessman, as well as a group of prospective investors.

According to a post shared by the government’s official Twitter account, the premier invited the businessmen to “benefit from the economic and business opportunities afforded by Pakistan’s strategic location and the connectivity to the broader region”.

Additionally, the investors appreciated the improved security situation in Pakistan and identified areas of interest for investment in key sectors such as energy and tourism sectors.

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