Imran Khan: Pakistan cannot afford to snub Saudis over Khashoggi killing

ISLAMABAD – Newly installed Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has told Middle East Eye that his country must continue to prioritise good relations with Saudi Arabia despite the killing of Jamal Khashoggi because of its dire economic crisis.

Khan is due to travel to Riyadh on Tuesday to attend an investment summit that has been boycotted by many western officials and companies following the death of the journalist inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October.

And in his first interview with foreign journalists since taking office in August, Khan admitted that he could not afford not to attend.

Though shocked by Khashoggi’s killing, he said the Pakistani government needed urgent access to Saudi loans to avoid defaulting on record levels of debt within months.

“We’re desperate at the moment,” Khan said.

But Khan called on the US to drop its sanctions against Iran, Saudi Arabia’s bitter regional rival, which he said had also been detrimental to the economy of neighbouring Pakistan.

‘The last thing the Muslim world needs is another conflict. The Trump administration is moving towards one’
– Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan

And he urged US President Donald Trump to stop seeking to provoke a conflict there, and suggested that his government could play a mediating role between Tehran and Riyadh.

“The last thing the Muslim world needs is another conflict. The Trump administration is moving towards one,” he said.

Khan also urged western and Arab governments to reopen their embassies in Damascus, now that pro-Syrian government forces have reclaimed most of the country after seven years of civil war.

Such a move would mark a remarkable reversal of policy by governments which closed their embassies in the early months of the war and called on President Bashar al-Assad to resign.

Pakistan has been one of the few countries which has kept its embassy open throughout the conflict.

Meanwhile, in neighbouring Afghanistan, Khan noted that the US had come round to accepting the need for talks with the Taliban, and suggested that one radical solution to the country’s problems could be a coalition government in which the Taliban shared power.

Worst debt crisis in history
Khan concedes however that his immediate foreign policy priority is maintaining good relations with Saudi Arabia despite worldwide outrage at Khashoggi’s suspected murder by Saudi officials.

He described the journalist’s death as “sad beyond belief”, and indicated that he did not consider credible the latest official Saudi account of what happened.

Saudi Arabia said on Friday that Khashoggi had died in a fight with officials inside the building. Saudi officials had previously said that Khashoggi left the consulate soon after arriving.

“What happened in Turkey was just shocking. What should I say? It shocked all of us,” he said.

“The Saudi government will have to come up with an answer… We wait for whatever the Saudi explanation is. We hope there is an explanation that satisfies people and those responsible are punished.”

But Khan said he had no choice but to attend Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Future Investment Summit, which starts on Tuesday, because his country was so deep in debt.

“The reason I feel I have to avail myself of this opportunity [to speak to the Saudi leadership] is because in a country of 210 million people right now we have the worst debt crisis in our history, he told MEE, as he fidgeted with worry beads.

“Unless we get loans from friendly countries or the IMF [the International Monetary Fund] we actually won’t have in another two or three months enough foreign exchange to service our debts or to pay for our imports. So we’re desperate at the moment.”

Khan added that Pakistan would probably need loans from both friendly governments and the IMF to meet its commitments.

He was speaking in his privately-owned home perched on a hill in the village of Bani Gala high above Islamabad with a gorgeous view of farms and a distant lake.

Mediating role between Riyadh and Tehran
Khan’s trip to Riyadh is his second visit to Saudi Arabia in five weeks. Although he is yet to visit Tehran, the Pakistani Prime Minister hopes his government can play a mediating role in the worsening confrontation between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

“The best thing which could happen is us playing the role of bringing them together, somehow helping in alleviating and getting rid of this conflict,” he said.

He unambiguously blamed the US and Israel: “The US-Iran situation is disturbing for all of us in the Muslim world… The last thing the Muslim world wants is another conflict. The worrying part is that the Trump administration is moving towards some sort of conflict with Iran.

Why Saudi Arabia and Iran are desperately trying to court Imran Khan
“From our point of view, Iran is a neighbour. We already have a problem with one neighbour, Afghanistan… This is a policy driven by Israel which is leading the US to a conflict with Iran,” he said.

He pointed out that Iran was staying faithful to the nuclear deal signed with the US, Russia, China, the UK, France and Germany, but the Trump administration’s decision to repudiate it and impose sanctions on Iran directly affected Pakistan.

“Oil prices have already almost doubled in the last year and a half. The impact it has on poor countries in terms of creating more poverty. So I hope that sanity prevails and this rhetoric doesn’t lead to conflict.”
Asked if he would like the US to drop its sanctions on Iran, he replied unhesitatingly: “Yes, I would.”

US sanctions had scuppered plans for a gas pipeline from Iran to Pakistan, and impeded trade and banking, he explained. He also worried over the risk that the confrontation between largely Sunni Saudi Arabia and largely Shia Iran could heighten sectarian tensions in Pakistan.

“Twenty percent of our population, almost 40 million people, are Shia. Pakistan has traditionally had very powerful, very close relations with Saudi Arabia. Not only because in times of need Saudi Arabia has helped us. There are also two million Pakistani workers in Saudi Arabia. The country depends on their remittances,” he said.

Khan referred repeatedly to the fact that wars rarely go as smoothly as the planners want. He cited the US invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, which the US expected to lead to quick success but turned into quagmires lasting for years.

Opposed Saudi-led war in Yemen
During his visit to Riyadh in September he had made the same point to the Saudi leadership in connection with Yemen, he revealed.

“I have always opposed military solutions”, he told MEE. “So when I went the first time to Saudi Arabia I gave my opinion that whenever military men tell you that it’s only a matter of weeks or months, whenever you start a war it has unintended consequences.”

Pakistan which has fought three major wars with India since independence in 1947 has a long history of military ties to Saudi Arabia. Its battle-experienced officers have been helping to train the Saudis for more than three decades.

When Mohammed bin Salman formed a coalition of Muslim states to intervene militarily in Yemen, he asked Pakistan to take part.

Asia’s quiet superpower: Pakistan army’s teetering balance between Saudi Arabia and Iran
Nawaz Sharif, Khan’s predecessor as prime minister, wanted to accept but the Pakistani parliament, where Khan was an opposition leader, voted overwhelmingly to refuse.

Senior generals were also against involvement, partly for fear that any support for the Saudi military against Yemen’s Houthi rebels, who are mainly Zaidis, a non-Sunni branch of Islam, could incite problems in the ranks of the non-sectarian Pakistani army.

Nevertheless there have been media reports that Pakistani trainers have been on the Yemeni border advising Saudi forces. In his MEE interview Khan categorically denied this.

“It [our military] is not taking part in any action in Yemen. It is not involved in any conflict in Yemen,” he said.
‘The people of Syria have lost’
On Syria he took a strong line, arguing that outside interference by foreign states to bring about regime change there had caused more problems and was wrong.

‘Look at the suffering of the people. So yes, the answer is there should be peace there. Syria does not need more military action for regime change’

Asked if he thought Assad had won, he replied: “The people of Syria have lost. But I guess he [Assad] is in control now… Look at the suffering of the people. So yes, the answer is there should be peace there. Syria does not need more military action for regime change.”

Khan has long been a critic of US military involvement in Pakistan as well as the Middle East. After 9/11 and the collapse of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan he opposed the decision by General Pervez Musharraf (the country’s military ruler at the time) to send Pakistani troops to try to catch al-Qaeda fighters who had fled from Afghanistan to Pakistan’s autonomous tribal areas.

“General Musharraf got pressured by the Americans and did something which was probably the biggest blunder committed by a Pakistani leader,” he said.

“What happened in the tribal areas was almost a civil war with people standing up against our troops because of the collateral damage, and this ended in a full-fledged operation where half the people ended up being internally displaced.

“Almost three million people were displaced out of six million in the population. The whole area was devastated by the war in 10 or 12 years. It’s still not safe right now. We ended up losing almost 80,000 people dead. And that was under American pressure.”

He insisted that “what should never happen again is that Pakistan on anyone’s insistence including the Americans should ever send troops against our own people”.

‘Taliban Khan’
He said that “for advocating a political settlement 10 years ago they call me Taliban Khan”. He welcomed the fact that the Americans had finally realised there was no military solution in Afghanistan and had started talks with the Taliban.

He said he wished Saturday’s parliamentary elections in Afghanistan had been delayed and some sort of power-sharing deal had been agreed with the Taliban. It should still happen, he believes.

“I think there is a realisation that the Taliban cannot be defeated and I guess the Taliban realise that the other forces, the Northern Alliance, President Ghani’s government, cannot be defeated. So they would come to some sort of power-sharing agreement, which is the only solution.”

Khan acknowledged his line of thinking used to be considered anti-American. But he claimed that now that the US accepted there was no military solution in Afghanistan Pakistan’s relations with the US would be better than at any time in the last 10 years.

If his prediction is borne out, it will be an extraordinary turnaround. In January 2018, Trump tweeted: “The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than $33 billion in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies and deceit.”

In reaction Khan, at that stage an opposition MP, called Trump “ignorant and ungrateful”.

In his MEE interview, Khan was more diplomatic. A former captain of Pakistan’s national cricket team, he used a cricketing metaphor about a batsman who does not engage with a wide ball but lets it go past him to the wicket-keeper.

Asked what he thought of Trump, he said: “If I wasn’t the Prime minister, I would have given my views. Being the Prime Minister I have much more responsibility, so I’ll just say as we say in cricket, ‘well left’.”

Jamal Khashoggi: Trump says US asked for audio ‘if it exists’ • Audio reportedly proves Khashoggi was tortured then killed • Trump points to Saudi role as important strategic partners

Donald Trump says the US has asked Turkey for an audio recording of Jamal Khashoggi’s death which reportedly proves he was brutally tortured before his premeditated murder inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Turkish officials said the audio recording had been handed over to the US and Saudi Arabia. But on Wednesday, Trump told reporters: “We’ve asked for it … if it exists” – before adding that it “probably does” exist.

Trump had previously suggested he believes the denials of responsibility from the Saudi King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and warned against a rush to judgement.

On Wednesday, Trump denied he was covering up for the Saudi royals but at the same time pointed to their importance as strategic and commercial partners.

“I’m not giving cover at all. And with that being said, Saudi Arabia has been a very important ally of ours in the Middle East. We are stopping Iran,” he told reporters.

I’m not giving cover at all. And with that being said, Saudi Arabia has been a very important ally of ours in the Middle East. We are stopping Iran,” he told reporters.

But Trump’s defence of the Saudi royals has become increasingly difficult as Turkish government leaks and press reports have revealed more details about the grisly nature of Khashoggi’s fate and the involvement of Saudi operatives close to the Saudi crown prince.

The evidence, if confirmed, would also undermine any Saudi attempt to claim that Khashoggi’s death was the result of an interrogation gone wrong, carried out by rogue elements in the Saudi intelligence and security services. Multiple reports have suggested that Riyadh was contemplating putting out a narrative along those

According to an account in the pro-government daily newspaper Yeni Şafak, and a later report citing Turkish officials by the New York Times, the audio recording proves that Khashoggi was seized as soon as he entered the office of the Saudi consul, Mohammad al-Otaibi, on 2 October.

The dissident journalist was beaten and had his fingers cut off, according to the news account. Otaiba asked for the torture to be done outside his office, saying: “You will put me in trouble.”

“If you want to live when you come back to Arabia, shut up,” the consul was told by a Saudi hit team who had flown to Istanbul hours before Khashoggi’s planned visit to the consulate, where he had expected to pick up legal papers he needed to get married.

Khashoggi was beheaded and his body was cut up. A Saudi forensics specialist Salah Muhammad al-Tubaigy can be heard putting on headphones to listen to music and telling others to do the same while the body was dismembered, according to the reports.

Investigators believe that after the killing, Khashoggi’s body was taken to the consul general’s house, where it was disposed of.

Police set up barricades outside the residence on Tuesday evening to carry out a planned search of the premises, but Turkey was waiting for an agreement with Saudi Arabia to do so. Under the Vienna convention, diplomatic missions are considered foreign soil.

Otaibi, who has not been seen in public since the scandal erupted, left Turkey on a commercial flight to Riyadh on Tuesday.

A search of the house and some diplomatic vehicles was planned for Wednesday evening, as well as a second sweep of the consulate.

Several Saudi investigators arrived at the consular residence on Wednesday afternoon before the joint investigation.

It is unclear how the Turkish authorities obtained audio recordings of the murder, but officials have briefed multiple news organisations on their macabre contents.

The US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, initially refused to say whether he had heard the recordings at meetings at Istanbul airport on Wednesday morning with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Turkish foreign minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu. His spokeswoman later said that he had not.

In Washington, Donald Trump has come under increasing pressure for his defence of the Saudi regime, in the face of revulsion from top Republicans in the Senate.

Saudi Arabia, they’re an ally, and they’re a tremendous purchaser of, not only military equipment, but other things

In response to reporters’ questions about the case, Trump repeated past claims about US sales to Saudi Arabia, which have previously been shown to be vastly exaggerated.

“If you look at Saudi Arabia, they’re an ally, and they’re a tremendous purchaser of not only military equipment but other things,” he said. “When I went there, they committed to purchase $450bn worth of things, and $110bn worth of military. Those are the biggest orders in the history of this country, probably the history of the world.”

The $110bn figure has been shown to have been hugely inflated, apparently reflecting some arms deals done under the Obama administration, and some statements of intent from Riyadh, but very few – if any – new contracts.

The Saudi government claimed at the time of Trump’s visit to Riyadh in May 2017 that the two countries would do $380bn in total business together, but that also appeared to be an aspirational figure.

Trump has denied any personal financial relationship with the Saudi monarchy but in the past he has sold a yacht and apartments for millions of dollars to Saudi customers and Saudis continue to use his hotels.

The president insisted he was determined to get to the bottom of the Khashoggi case.

“I want to find out what happened, where is the fault, and we will probably know that by the end of the week. But Mike Pompeo is coming back, we’re gonna have a long talk,” Trump said.

In his own remarks to reporters in Istanbul, Pompeo would not comment on whether the Saudi journalist was dead or alive, but there is little doubt now among US officials that he was assassinated. Some of the 15-strong Saudi hit team that flew to Istanbul and lay in wait for Khashoggi in the consulate, are members of the crown prince’s entourage.

The team arrived on on two Gulfstream jets that flew in to Istanbul on 2 October, the day of Khashoggi’s disappearance and returned to Riyadh on 3 October. The planes belonged to an aviation company that was seized by the Saudi government last year.

The New York Times reported on Tuesday that four of the men identified by Turkish media as part of a 15-man hit squad sent from Riyadh to silence Khashoggi were members of Bin Salman’s personal security detail. Tubaigy, holds a senior position in the Saudi interior ministry.

Before meeting Pompeo, Erdoğan had revealed signs of an attempted cover-up in the Saudi consulate, saying police had found freshly painted walls and “toxic” substances during a search of the building.

Çavuşoğlu described the two 40-minute meetings with Pompeo as “beneficial and fruitful”. After their conversation, Pompeo did not reveal what Erdoğan had told him about the investigation, other than to claim the Saudis were cooperating fully after “a couple of delays”.

“He made clear that the Saudis had cooperated with the investigation that the Turks are engaged in, and that they are going to share information that they learned with the Saudis as well,” Pompeo said. “There had been a couple of delays but they seemed pretty confident that the Saudis would permit them to do the things they needed to do to complete their thorough and complete investigation.”

Pompeo has attracted fierce criticism for his seemingly jovial meeting on Tuesday with the Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman. Several of Bin Salman’s security detail have been identified in press reports as members of the hit squad alleged to have murdered Khashoggi in the consulate.

Asked whether the Saudis had told him whether Khashoggi was dead or alive, Pompeo replied: “I don’t want to talk about any of the facts. They didn’t want to either, in that they want to have the opportunity to complete this investigation in a thorough way.”
Pompeo also claimed there was serious commitment in Riyadh to “determine all the facts and ensure accountability”.
After his meetings with the Turkish leadership, Pompeo said it was reasonable to give the Saudis more time to do so.
“It’s not about benefit of the doubt,” Pompeo said. “It’s that it is reasonable to give them a handful of days more to complete that so they get it right so that it’s thorough and complete and that’s what they’ve indicated they need and I’m hopeful that we’ll get to see it.”

However, he made clear that the Trump administration would take the broader US relationship with the Saudi regime into account in deciding how to respond to the Khashoggi case.

“I do think it’s important that everyone keeps in their mind that we have a lot of important relationships – financial relationships between US and Saudi companies, governmental relationships – things we work on together all across the world. The efforts to reduce the risk to the United States of America from the world’s largest state sponsor of terror, Iran,” Pompeo said.

“The Saudis have been great partners in working alongside us on those issues … And we just need to make sure that we are mindful of that as we approach decisions that the United States government will take.”

But the suspects’ direct links to the Saudi establishment weaken the suggestion made by Trump that the alleged murder could have been carried out by “rogue killers” in an unauthorised operation.

Jamal Khashoggi Disappears, a Mystery Rattling the Middle

LONDON — Jamal Khashoggi, a prominent Saudi dissident, met two friends for lunch last Monday in London to discuss a newspaper column he had drafted lamenting the lack of free speech in the Arab world. “Everyone is fearful,” he wrote.

But Mr. Khashoggi appeared to have little fear about his plans for the next day: to pick up a document from the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. He brushed aside warnings from his friends that his criticism of the kingdom’s rulers had drawn their enmity, making the consulate dangerous territory.

The consular staff, he assured them, “are just ordinary Saudis, and the ordinary Saudis are good people,” recalled one of his lunch companions, Azzam Tamimi.

On Tuesday afternoon, Mr. Khashoggi entered the consulate. He has not been seen since.
Turkish investigators say that a team of 15 Saudi agents killed him inside the consulate, several officials told The New York Times and other news organizations. “He was killed and his body was dismembered,” Turan Kislakci, the head of Turkish Arab Media Association, said officials had told him.

Saudi Arabia has denied it, insisting Mr. Khashoggi left shortly after he arrived.

By Sunday, the dispute over his disappearance threatened to upend relations between two of the region’s most important powers. If his killing is confirmed, it could also unravel the campaign by the 33-year-old Saudi Arabian crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, to cultivate an image in the West as a promising reformer and dependable ally.

Turkish officials demanded Sunday that Saudi Arabia explain Mr. Khashoggi’s failure to re-emerge from the consulate.

“There is concrete information,” Yasin Aktay, an adviser to the head of Turkey’s ruling A.K.P. party, said Sunday in a television interview. “It will not remain an unsolved case.”
Turkish officials have not made their accusations publicly nor have they provided any evidence to back up their claim, raising questions about whether Ankara would stand behind the leaks or whether it was seeking to avoid a costly fight with Riyadh.

A Turkish official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the government was waiting until the investigation was complete to disclose the evidence because of diplomatic sensitivities. Full disclosure, he said, would eventually come from the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Saudi Arabia stuck by its blanket denials without offering a credible alternative explanation. It dismissed the accusations from unnamed Turkish officials as “baseless” and “expressed doubt that they came from Turkish officials that are informed of the investigation,” according to a statement from the Istanbul consulate.

Instead, Saudi Arabia praised Turkey for accepting a Saudi request to investigate Mr. Khashoggi’s disappearance. “The kingdom is concerned with the safety and well-being of its citizens wherever they are,” the statement said.

In Washington, the mystery tested loyalties. Many current and former American officials are friendly with Mr. Khashoggi, a resident of the United States who had worked at Saudi embassies and, until he became a dissident, as a kind of informal spokesman for the Saudi leadership. He had recently become a columnist for The Washington Post, where he cemented his pivot from consummate Saudi insider to critic.

But President Trump and his advisers, including his son-in-law and Middle East envoy Jared Kushner, have embraced the crown prince as a pivotal ally, with the president repeatedly expressing his confidence in the young Saudi royal as he amassed power.
State department officials have said only that the United States cannot confirm Mr. Khashoggi’s fate but is following the case.

Others have expressed alarm. Senator Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat, said the United States should not conduct business as usual with an ally that would carry out such a killing.

“If this is true — that the Saudis lured a U.S. resident into their consulate and murdered him — it should represent a fundamental break in our relationship with Saudi Arabia,” Senator Murphy wrote on Twitter.

Senator Tim Kaine, a Democrat from Virginia, said, “We must get to the bottom of what happened and then impose strong consequences. Targeting journalists must stop.”

Until recently, Mr. Khashoggi, 59, was the quintessential Saudi loyalist. Tall with droopy eyes and an easygoing manner, he graduated from Indiana State University and climbed quickly through the ranks of the distinctive Saudi news business, where the leaders of the royal family are the only readers who matter.

During the Saudi- and American-backed jihad against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the 1980s, Mr. Khashoggi made a name for himself by interviewing the militant leader Osama bin Laden, who later founded Al Qaeda. Mr. Khashoggi also became a trusted aid to Prince Turki al-Faisal, who served as the head of Saudi intelligence as well as ambassador to the United States and Britain, where Mr. Khashoggi worked for him as an adviser.

Mr. Khashoggi’s relative independence sometimes probed Saudi boundaries. The authorities twice removed him as the editor of the Saudi newspaper Al Watan after he published articles critical of the religious establishment. As the head of a new Saudi-owned news channel based in Bahrain, he allowed a Bahraini dissident to appear on its first day of broadcasting, in 2015. The channel was yanked off the air the next day “for technical and administrative reasons.”

None of those kerfuffles, though, did real damage to his status around the royal court. Mr. Khashoggi remained a go-to contact for American journalists and diplomats looking for a cogent explanation of the Saudi rulers’ perspective.

After King Salman ascended to the throne three years ago, his favorite son, Prince Mohammed, began to consolidate power. He has painted himself as a reformer — weakening the religious police and allowing women to drive, for instance — while waging a crackdown on even the relatively modest and previously tolerated forms of dissent.

Mr. Khashoggi fled the kingdom for Washington, where he styled himself as the loyal opposition, supportive of the monarchy but critical of policies like its war in Yemen or intolerance of the Muslim Brotherhood.

“I have left my home, my family and my job, and I am raising my voice,” he wrote in an op-ed in The Post. “To do otherwise would betray those who languish in prison,” he added. “We Saudis deserve better.”

The Saudi authorities quietly tried to co-opt him, promising him positions at home while viciously attacking him online as a foreign-backed agent. Some of his relatives were banned from leaving the kingdom. His exile led to divorce.

That ultimately is what led him to the consulate in Istanbul. Mr. Khashoggi, whose family has Turkish roots, planned to marry a woman there, a graduate student focusing on Persian Gulf politics. He had bought an apartment and intended to move. A small wedding was scheduled. But Turkish law required a document from the Saudi consulate to certify his divorce.

He visited the consulate the week before the wedding and found the staff friendly. “They were surprised and said, ‘Yes, we will do it for you, but there is no time,’ and they agreed he will come back on Tuesday,” his friend, Mr. Tamimi, recalled.

His fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, thought it was a mistake to set a meeting in advance.

Mr. Khashoggi told her not to worry.

“He said they would not dare attempt anything within Turkey’s borders,” she said.

Shortly before the Tuesday appointment, Turkish officials now say, 15 Saudi agents, some carrying diplomatic passports, arrived in Istanbul on two planes.
On Tuesday, Mr. Khashoggi and Ms. Cengiz went to the embassy at 1:30 p.m. She waited outside for him.

She was still waiting there after midnight.

She came back the next morning, which was to have been their wedding day.

“We have bought the house and the furniture,” she said then. “The furniture is arriving today.”

David D. Kirkpatrick reported from London, and Ben Hubbard from Beirut. Carlotta Gall contributed reporting from Istanbul.

At the UN, World Laughs at America

At the United Nations, Trump proves the world is indeed laughing at America.

On Tuesday, the president addressed the UN and made a familiar boast that his administration “has accomplished more than almost any administration in the history of our country.” Trump has self-praised in this way on many occasions, at rallies, when speaking to fellow Republicans, and even in talks with world leaders. But in all those circumstances, the auditors were either inclined to agree with Trump or had a motive to flatter him by pretending agreement. At the UN, Trump got a very different reaction: a low murmur of laughter.

Taken aback by the chuckling, Trump did a double take and said, “didn’t expect that reaction, but that’s okay.” This amused the audience even more.

Although Trump took the unexpected mockery calmly and moved on, the incident hits the president at a vulnerable spot. As Paul Waldman noted in The Week in May of 2017, Trump has an almost pathological horror at being laughed at:

If you’ve been paying any attention at all over the last couple of years, you know this is a topic he returns to again and again. Search Trump’s Twitter feed and you’ll find that who’s laughing at whom is an obsession for him, with the United States usually the target of the laughter. “The world is laughing at us.” China is “laughing at USA!” Iran is “laughing at Kerry & Obama!” “ISIS & all others laughing!” “Mexican leadership has been laughing at us for many years.” “Everybody is laughing at Jeb Bush.” “Putin is laughing at Obama.” “OPEC is laughing at how stupid we are.” “Dopey, nobody is laughing at me!”
On August 9, 2014 Trump tweeted:

These words now ring with truth.

Saudi Arabia likely to invest in mega oil city in Gwadar under CPEC: sources

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has invited Saudi Arabia to become a strategic third partner in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and the decision is expected to bring huge investments in the country.

Pakistan is expected to receive an economic package worth $8 billion from Saudi Arabia which includes investment in the port city of Gwadar under CPEC. The deal was reported agreed during Prime Minister Imran Khan’s recent visit to the Kingdom.

The Kingdom is also expected to invest the mega oil city project in Gwadar. The project was abandoned by the UAE earlier this year after the cost ballooned exponentially.

The 80,000-acres mega oil city at Gwadar will be used to transport oil from the Gulf region to China through the Gwadar Port. This will reduce the distance to just seven days from Gwadar to the Chinese border instead of the current forty days.

The incumbent government has prioritised projects under CPEC and has also formed a committee headed by Minister for Planning and Development Khusro Bahtiar to focus on the development of Gwadar.

The cabinet committee in a meeting on Saturday decided to prioritise four special economic zones (SEZs) in Gwadar and the inclusion of social sector development and third country participation in CPEC.

Petroleum Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan has recently stated that Pakistan wants to to develop Gwadar not only as economic hub but also an oil city under CPEC.

The minister in meeting with the Chinese ambassador last week discussed future projects related to oil and gas exploration, petroleum transportation and processing. He took keen interest in the Chinese offer to establish of oil refinery in Pakistan.

Saudi Arabia has shown keen interest in CPEC primarily to relate its economy with China and take steps in achieving its Vision 2030, which aims to diversify the economy with energy mega projects to reduce oil dependency.

This would also utilise the unique location of Gwadar and become a global hub for vast economic activities. CPEC would provide the Saudis an opportunity to participate even better in world trade traffic.

Saudi Arabia will also be able to help China have a better crude oil supply. China is one of the largest oil consumers and highly dependent due to its trade and business activities. Therefore, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia both can benefit from the exclusive trade routes under CPEC.

US Pakistan talks prompt vow to reset ties after prolonged spat – By Asad Hashim Al Jazeera (Sept 5, 2018)

Pompeo has held talks with Pakistan’s prime minister and foreign minister, as the two erstwhile strategic allies seek to mend ties that Pakistan has said have become “almost non-existent” in recent months.

Pompeo met Prime Minister Imran Khan and Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi in the Pakistani capital Islamabad on Wednesday, in a set of talks both sides described as a “positive beginning” to rebuilding the relationship.

Army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa, whose institution has ruled Pakistan for roughly half its history and still controls aspects of security and foreign policy, was also part of the talks.

“We have still got a long way to go, lots more discussion to be had,” Pompeo told reporters before leaving Islamabad for his next stop, the Indian capital New Delhi.

Qureshi will meet Pompeo again in Washington DC later this month, following his attendance of the UN General Assembly. He will also be travelling to Kabul shortly for talks with Afghan authorities, he said.

‘Alignment and convergence’
The talks on Wednesday focused on opportunities to reset the relationship and for greater cooperation on the war in Afghanistan, particularly on Pakistan’s role in the political reconciliation process with the Taliban, Pakistan’s foreign minister told reporters.

“The US has been evaluating its policy, and they have reached the conclusion that the solution in Afghanistan is a negotiated political settlement,” said Qureshi. “And here once again you will see an alignment and convergence between the US and Pakistan.”

Pakistan and the US have differed greatly over the conflict in Afghanistan, with the United States and Afghanistan often accusing Pakistan of offering sanctuary to leaders of the Afghan Taliban and its ally, the Haqqani Network.

Pakistan denies the charges, saying it has acted indiscriminately against all armed groups on its soil, and in turn accuses Kabul of allowing elements in the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP, also known as the Pakistani Taliban) to operate in that country’s eastern provinces.

Pompeo said the talks on Wednesday focused on deliverable outcomes.

“We made it clear to them – and they agreed – that it’s time for us to begin to deliver on our joint commitments,” he said. “We have had lots of times where we have talked and made agreements, but we have not been able to actually execute those.”

“And so, there was a broad agreement between myself and Foreign Minister Qureshi, as well as with the prime minister, that we need to begin to do things that will actually begin to deliver, on the ground, outcomes so that we can begin to build confidence and trust between the two countries.”

State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert, meanwhile, said Pompeo commented on Pakistan’s role in neighbouring Afghanistan and the wider region during the talks.

“In all of his meetings, Secretary Pompeo emphasised the important role Pakistan could play in bringing about a negotiated peace in Afghanistan, and conveyed the need for Pakistan to take sustained and decisive measures against terrorists and militants threatening regional peace and stability,” Nauert said.

Funding slashed

The US-Pakistan relationship has remained troubled since President Donald Trump assumed power last year.
In January, Trump cut more than $1.1 billion in security assistance to Pakistan, accusing the country of “lies and deceit” in its role in the Afghan conflict.

On Sunday, the US confirmed that $300 million in a Coalition Support Funds reimbursement, which was initially suspended under that announcement, had been finally cancelled.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Qureshi said he did not raise the issue of the funds with Pompeo as he wanted to focus on resetting the atmosphere of the relationship, rather than dwelling on previous decisions.

“Our relationship is not based on transactions, we have to think differently,” he said. “We have to talk not about money, but about principles.”

Qureshi said that if the relationship was to move forward, “it must be based on truth [and] frank, candid conversations”.

“I said this to him, and he agreed, that this blame and shame game does not achieve anything,” he said.
“Yes, we have challenges. On some things, we may think differently, but we have shared objectives as well.”

Why the Taliban’s Assault on Ghazni Matters

KABUL, Afghanistan — The American-led invasion of Afghanistan routed Taliban extremists from power after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Nearly 17 years later, after tens of thousands of deaths, hundreds of billions of dollars spent and two White House administrations come and gone, those extremists are not only undefeated but seem as strong as ever.

Since Friday, Taliban fighters have roamed the streets of Ghazni City, a strategic urban center less than 100 miles from the capital, Kabul, killing dozens of Afghan soldiers and police officers, cutting communications and severing the main highway from Kabul to the south and beyond.

The Ghazni assault has demonstrated a stunning display of Taliban tenacity that belies the official Afghan and American narrative of progress in the war and the possibility for peace talks. It also has revealed remarkable bumbling by the Afghan military, including the wrong kind of ammunition sent to besieged police officers. Moreover, the siege has raised basic questions about what conditions the Taliban might accept for peace talks.

What is happening in Ghazni?
For months, residents and local officials in Ghazni, a city of about 280,000 people, had warned that the Taliban was surrounding the city and making inroads of control. Taliban fighters were even collecting taxes in some areas. On a visit in June, I found the city in fear — people avoided large gatherings. Assassinations were more frequent.

On Aug. 10, more than 1,000 Taliban fighters stormed the city in a predawn assault. Officials claim the Taliban were aided by foreign fighters, including Pakistanis and Chechens, and even some Al Qaeda affiliates

The police were forced to retreat and protect the main government facilities — the governor’s office, the Police Headquarters, the intelligence compound, the main prison — leaving the Taliban assailants to entrench themselves elsewhere. The Afghan minister of defense on Monday said that about 100 police officers and army soldiers and more 20 civilians had been killed. He put the number of dead Taliban fighters at about 200.

The siege of Ghazni is perhaps the most audacious example of a Taliban resurgence that has whittled the gains made after tens of thousands of American troops launched a campaign to oust them from power.

While not the first time Taliban fighters have invaded a major Afghan city in recent years, Ghazni’s strategic location is important. Its proximity to Kabul and location on the major highway connecting the capital to the south makes it a vital lifeline.

Rahmatullah Nabil, a former Afghan intelligence chief, said Ghazni also was important because some of its neighboring provinces border the tribal areas of northern Pakistan, where militants have long moved with impunity. Who controls Ghazni also impacts how freely the insurgents can move into other parts of the country, Mr. Nabil said. Taliban control of Ghazni also raises the possibility that Taliban eventually could surround Kabul itself.

In recent years, as Afghan forces have largely taken ownership of the war from American forces, the Taliban have continued to gain territory. In some areas, they have struggled to hold a district or city that they briefly entered, but in others they are firmly embedded.

According to the United States military, the Afghan government controls just over half of the country’s nearly 400 districts — about 56 percent. Taliban insurgents control 14 percent, and the rest of the country is contested.

A major deterrent to further Taliban gains has been American and Afghan airstrikes. The United States military alone has dropped about 3,000 bombs in the first six months of this year. But air power alone is insufficient.
Mr. Nabil said the internal political struggles of the Afghan government and its inability to outthink the Taliban’s moves before insurgents invaded a city were underlying problems. He likened the Ghazni battle to the 2015 siege of Kunduz, when it took more than two weeks for government-backed forces to retake the city.

“It was like this in Kunduz also — they first went after the outlying districts, then military bases, and eventually they made it to the city,” Mr. Nabil said. “Once the city is totally surrounded, entering inside the city becomes easy.”

How is the U.S. military involved?
The United States maintains about 14,000 troops in Afghanistan; they play an advisory role to Afghan troops and support a small counterterrorism mission. That is down from the peak of about American 100,000 soldiers in the country, at a time when the American military was leading the fight to defeat the Taliban in Afghan villages.

Military officials said American advisers were on the ground with Afghan forces in Ghazni. American forces also have conducted about 25 airstrikes in the city.

But much like the Afghan government, the United States military played down the extent of the crisis, in assessments completely at odds with the information from the locals.

A statement by the United States military said, for example, that the main highway to the south remained open. But passengers on both sides remained stuck, and local Afghan officials said the highway was closed.

It is unclear how many American troops are on the ground in Ghazni. But in cities such as Farah and Kunduz — assaulted by Taliban militants in 2015, 2016 and this year — the American military sent teams of Army Special Forces to call in airstrikes and fight alongside their Afghan commando counterparts.

One American military official said he wasn’t surprised by the attack on Ghazni. Turmoil between Ghazni’s Pashtun and Hazara tribes helped lay the foundation for the assault by the predominantly Pashtun militants.

Local tribal dynamics, he said, is one reason the Afghan government struggles to hold territory.

He added that these kinds of battles — heavy fighting in dispersed towns and small cities — were likely to keep happening well into the future, with American air power often acting as the deciding factor between victory and defeat.

To the west in Helmand Province, American troops are preparing for potential attacks on American and Afghan outposts because of concerns that Taliban fighters may be preparing to expand their offensive in Ghazni.

How will this affect peace talks with the Taliban?
For months now, a new, urgent push has been underway to persuade the Taliban negotiate. Such efforts have failed before, but now there are some important differences.

First, both sides announced a rare, overlapping cease-fire. Then, American diplomats met with Taliban representatives in Doha, Qatar, in what was seen as an icebreaker to ease the insurgent group’s long-held demand that it would first talk to the Americans without Afghan government officials present.

The increase in violence and the siege of Ghazni come at a time when the Afghan government and its international partners have been pushing for a second cease-fire in coming weeks. Although the violence is unlikely to change those plans, it does complicate the government’s effort to counter critics of the peace efforts.

Thomas Gibbons-Neff contributed reporting from Washington.

Imran Khan’s election in Pakistan presents a global dilemma

The cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan has finally been accepted as Pakistan’s next prime minister. I say “finally” because the election commission managed to add to widespread concerns about the elections by inexplicably delaying its announcement of the outcome. Almost all of Pakistan’s parties, other than Khan’s, have contested the results; Shehbaz Sharif, the leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, which won the last general election, tweeted about “manifest and massive irregularities” and argued that Pakistan’s democratization has been “pushed back decades.”

Sharif is right. The past year saw the disqualification of his brother Nawaz, the democratically elected prime minister, and then an election campaign that was throughout very far from fair. Most outside Pakistan will agree with Sharif and his colleagues in other parties, and question whether a government brought to power in this manner should be considered legitimate.

But where does that leave the rest of the world? Pakistan’s military establishment has, through its skillful management of this election, presented the world with a problem that has no easy solution.

Khan has been in the public eye for decades — for more than 20 years as an aspirant prime minister, and before that as the charismatic captain of Pakistan’s cricket team. When that team won the World Cup more than 25 years ago, Khan famously delivered a speech that was stunning in its egotism: He actually forgot to thank his young teammates. After his election victory, his teammates in the powerful establishment — the “boys,” as some Pakistanis euphemistically refer to them — will surely expect more tangible thanks.

But here’s the dilemma the rest of us face. On one hand, we have to continue to support Pakistan’s democratization — which means engaging with its civilian leadership, rather than the generals in Rawalpindi. On the other hand, do we want to help legitimize a government elected with the open support of the military?

You could argue that we should wait to see what sort of prime minister Khan becomes. But, frankly, our expectations should be low. Khan’s political positions in the past have been troubling — particularly his flirtation with the obscurantist religious right, which in Pakistan is very obscurantist indeed. For example, he has voted in favor of religious laws that make it impossible to prosecute rape cases.

During his campaign, he projected himself as a defender of Pakistan’s stringent and illiberal blasphemy law. It’s hard to imagine a Khan-led administration starting off doing anything other than what the military would want it to do — which is to protect those who carry out attacks in Afghanistan and India, defend the army’s entrenched economic interests, and keep the fires of anti-American sentiment burning.

None of this is good news for ordinary Pakistanis, or for the rest of the world. Khan’s anti-West speeches may have been strident, but reality will overtake his rhetoric. Pakistan’s economy is teetering on the brink of a balance-of-payments crisis; sooner or later, and probably sooner, the new government will have to turn to the International Monetary Fund for support. Sooner or later, but probably later, the new prime minister will also realize that the robust “new Pakistan” that he ha he has promised his voters will need him to complete the structural reforms that his predecessors have left unfinished.

After all, Nawaz Sharif himself was once a creature of the military: He rose to power as an acolyte of the military dictator Muhammad Zia ul-Haq, who ruled Pakistan in the 1980s. Sharif’s relationship with the Army, however, soured once he was in power and developed a small-business power base of his own that expected him to take on the entrenched interests that dominated Pakistan’s economy. It is not impossible that a similar dynamic will play out over the first years of Khan’s term.

India and the West, therefore, should be cautious. Embracing Khan too early would be a mistake, as it would signal support for the military’s management of the electoral process. But we should be awake to any sign that Khan — a man with enough ego for an entire cricket team — is breaking with his powerful backers. After all, how long will a man like Imran Khan be satisfied by not being the captain of his own team?

White House Orders Direct Taliban Talks to Jump-Start Afghan Negotiations

KABUL, Afghanistan — The Trump administration has told its top diplomats to seek direct talks with the Taliban, a significant shift in American policy in Afghanistan, done in the hope of jump-starting negotiations to end the 17-year war.

The Taliban have long said they will first discuss peace only with the Americans, who toppled their regime in Afghanistan in 2001. But the United States has mostly insisted that the Afghan government must take part.

The recent strategy shift, which was confirmed by several senior American and Afghan officials, is intended to bring those two positions closer and lead to broader, formal negotiations to end the long war.

The shift to prioritize initial American talks with the Taliban over what has proved a futile “Afghan-led, Afghan-owned” process stems from a realization by both Afghan and American officials that President Trump’s new Afghanistan strategy is not making a fundamental difference in rolling back Taliban gains.

While no date for any talks has been set, and the effort could still be derailed, the willingness of the United States to pursue direct talks is an indication of the sense of urgency in the administration to break the stalemate in Afghanistan.

Not long after he took office, Mr. Trump reluctantly agreed to provide more resources to his field commanders fighting the Taliban, adding a few thousand troops to bring the American total to about 15,000. But a year later the insurgent group continues to threaten Afghan districts and cities and inflict heavy casualties on the country’s security forces.

The government controls or influences 229 of Afghanistan’s 407 districts, and the Taliban 59. The remaining 119 districts are contested, according the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, which was created by Congress to monitor progress in the country.

Providing more authority to American diplomats, a move that was decided on last month by Mr. Trump’s national security aides, is seen as part of a wider push to inject new momentum into efforts to end the war.

Those efforts include a rare cease-fire last month, increased American pressure on Pakistan to stop providing sanctuary to Taliban leaders and a rallying of Islamic nations against the insurgency’s ideology. Grassroots peace movements in the region have also increased pressure on all sides.

Over the past few weeks senior American officials have flown to Afghanistan and Pakistan to lay the groundwork for direct United States-Taliban talks. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo briefly visited the Afghan capital, Kabul, last week, and Alice G. Wells, the top diplomat for the region, spent several days holding talks with major players in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Efforts have particularly focused on trying to persuade the Afghan leadership that such talks are not a replacement for negotiations with the country’s coalition government, but are meant to break the ice and pave the way for those.

Because the previous Afghan government felt left out of peace efforts during the Obama administration, it resisted direct talks, which was one reason peace efforts at that time collapsed.

Neither the State Department nor a Taliban spokesman would comment on the shift of policy toward engaging the Taliban directly.

Ms. Wells, during her trip to Kabul, reported a new “energy and impulse for everyone to renew their efforts to find a negotiated settlement,” largely as a result of the cease-fire. Days earlier, Mr. Pompeo, in a statement, said that there would be no precondition for talks — and that everything, including the presence of American and NATO troops in Afghanistan, was up for discussion.

“I think Secretary Pompeo was very clear — we are prepared to facilitate, to support, to participate in — so there is nothing that precludes us from engaging with the Taliban in that fashion,” Ms. Wells said. “What we are not prepared to do is at the exclusion of the Afghan government — that is the critical difference.”

“We are doing everything we can,” she added, “to ensure that our actions help the Taliban and the Afghan government to the same table.”

With the focus now just on getting negotiations started, it is too early to assess what a final deal acceptable to both sides might look like.

President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan said last month at a news conference that the peace process would be a complicated, layered effort rolled out in phases that were still in the preparatory stage.

He left open the possibility of a more direct American role in the early efforts.

“Various ideas, creative ideas are floating on how to break this logjam and get started,” Mr. Ghani said.

Afghan officials and political leaders said direct American talks with the Taliban would probably then grow into negotiations that would include the Taliban, the Afghan government, the United States and Pakistan.

“If we look backwards, the Bonn process is a pretty good paradigm for what ultimately a peace process is going to look like,” Ms. Wells said, referring to the 2001 talks in the German city that established the post-Taliban government in Afghanistan.

“You are going to start off — the Afghans speaking to one another, but obviously the United States and Pakistan were critical in that inner core, and then you build out.“

A near-consensus has grown among American and Afghan officials involved in earlier and current efforts to fire up a peace process that the only way out of the war is for the United States to take a more direct role in negotiations.

That realization rests on several facts: that the Taliban are a stubborn insurgency, that they have not budged on their demand to talk directly with the Americans, and that the Afghan government, mired in infighting and marred by political opposition, would struggle to lead a cohesive peace agenda without American help.

Douglas E. Lute, a former ambassador to NATO who advised Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush on Afghanistan, said he supported the new marching orders for American diplomats, although he was not privy to deciding on them.

“We’re in diplomatic gridlock right now,” Mr. Lute said. “We ought to look for creative ways to move this forward.”

Officials have been moving with a sense of urgency because Mr. Trump has expressed his frustration with the war and is desperate to see its end, said a senior American official who, like many spoken to for this article, requested anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss confidential diplomatic discussions.

During last week’s NATO summit meeting in Brussels, Mr. Trump expressed agreement with a reporter’s question that contained the notion that “people are fed up” with the Afghan war.

“Yeah,” Mr. Trump said Thursday. “I agree with that. I very much agree. It’s been going on for a long time. We’ve made a lot of progress, but it’s been going on for a long time.”

An important distinguishing factor of the recent push, according to officials involved in previous efforts, is that the United States military seems very much on board.

In 2011, when the Obama administration first shifted to a policy of ending the war through negotiations, military commanders still believed they could defeat the Taliban. Now, they define their goal more modestly: keeping the Taliban from victory until a political settlement is reached.

Gen. John W. Nicholson, the commander of United States and NATO forces in Afghanistan, was instrumental in initiating last month’s rare cease-fire. As further indication that he is an active part of the new peace effort, he has as an adviser a member of the team that made the initial contacts with the Taliban around 2011.

Those early efforts fell apart after disagreements with the Afghan government, then led by President Hamid Karzai. Still, the Taliban established a political commission by moving some of their officials to Doha, Qatar, in the Persian Gulf.

In 2014, the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the American prisoner of war who had been kidnapped by the Taliban after he walked off his base, was negotiated through the Doha office.

Another brief moment of hope occurred in 2015, when Afghan officials and representatives of the Taliban met at a resort town in Pakistan. But the credibility of the Taliban representatives who came to the table was questioned, and the process collapsed when news emerged that the Taliban’s supreme leader, Mullah Omar, in whose name they were negotiating, had actually been dead for three years.

Even if talks do begin again, many observers point to how difficult they will be.

Seth Jones, who heads the Transnational Threats Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said there was little evidence that the Taliban’s senior leaders were seriously interested in settlement terms acceptable to Afghan and American officials.

“Most Taliban leaders believe they are winning the war in Afghanistan and that time is on their side,” Mr. Jones said.

David Sedney, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense who dealt with Afghanistan and Pakistan, said that while grass-roots peace movements in Afghanistan could upset old calculations, progress on the battlefield and in talks with the Taliban remains dependent on effective pressure on Pakistan, where the insurgent leaders have sanctuary.

What undermines that pressure, he said, is a lack of patience and a “reflex impulse” to judge the new American strategy as doomed so soon after it began.

Signals from the Trump administration and exceptions made to military sanctions on Pakistan indicate that the United States is already backing away from the pressure in the hope that Pakistan delivers Taliban leaders to urgent talks.

“If so, the Pakistanis will once again have taken the measure of a vacillating United States,” Mr. Sedney said. “If that was the only factor at play, then I would say that the U.S. move to engage with the Taliban again, as we did a number of times, would be another U.S. government misstep that exacerbates violence and enhances the Taliban’s hopes for a military victory.”

Mujib Mashal reported from Kabul, and Eric Schmitt from Washington. Gardiner Harris contributed reporting from Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia.

Rumors and reactions regarding the recognition of Durand Line

The Dawn News in Pakistan has rejected a report attributed to the news outlet suggesting that the Afghan National Security Adviser Mohammad Hanif Atmar has recognized Durand Line as the official international border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“A fake Facebook post screenshot doctored to pose as surfaced on social media on Thursday,” Dawn News said in a report.

The report further added that “The fake post attempts to mislead the public and stakeholders by suggesting that Afghanistan accepted the Durand Line as an official border.

It presented an image of Afghan National Security Adviser Hanif Atmar and Chief of Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa and falsely claims this was discussed in a meeting.”

The National Security Council of Afghanistan in a statement said the Afghan officials have neither met with General Qamar Javed Bajwa during their recent visit to Pakistan nor the officials of the two countries had any discussion regarding the Durand Line.

The statement further added that the report published on social media is totally baseless and is a fake propaganda.

According to the National Security Council, the issue of Durand Line has never been shared during any meeting, emphasizing that the issue must never be shared during any bilateral meeting.

The Office of the National Security Council says the issue of Durand Line relates to the nation of Afghanistan and no government has the right to hold talks in this regard.

Rumors and reactions regarding the recognition of Durand Line