U.S. President Donald Trump has held out the possibility of restoring aid to Pakistan as Islamabad is "helping us a lot now" to find a way out of the war in neighboring Afghanistan.
Speaking after a meeting with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan on July 22, Trump said Pakistan could make a "make a big difference" in ending the nearly 18-year war with the Taliban.
"I don't think Pakistan respected the United States" in the past, said Trump, speaking at a White House meeting with Khan. But "they are helping us a lot now."
The United States has long accused Pakistan of providing "havens" for militant groups fighting in India and Afghanistan, and Trump has cut financial and military aid to Islamabad.
Trump also offered to mediate the decades-long dispute between India and Pakistan over the divided Himalayan region of Kashmir, a move that would indicate a shift in long-standing U.S. policy that the issue must be solved bilaterally.
"If I can help, I would love to be a mediator," Trump said. "If I can do anything to help, let me know."
Khan said he "looked forward" to talks with Trump over the next few days and said he wanted to ensure there was a common "understanding between the two countries."
It is the first time Khan, a former cricket star who won election last year, has made an official visit to the U.S. capital.
The Pakistani leader will be accompanied by his top military leader and intelligence officer, a clear indication that the war in Afghanistan and terrorism will dominate the bilateral talks.
Khan's visit comes amid frayed relations with the United States, which is seeking to bring stability to Afghanistan and end the war there. The assistance of Pakistan, which neighbors Afghanistan, is key to achieving a resolution, U.S. officials have said.
“The purpose of [Khan’s] 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 with its territory," a senior Trump official told reporters.
In a move some analysts view as a concession to Washington ahead of the trip, Pakistan arrested Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, the founder of the extremist group that carried out the deadly 2008 attacks in Mumbai, India. It is about the seventh time that Pakistani forces have arrested Saeed.
"We would look to see that Pakistan is taking sustained action and actually prosecuting these people. Quite frankly, the previous arrests of Saeed haven’t made a difference," the senior official said.
In addition to locking up individuals it considers terrorists, the Trump administration will also be asking Khan to free political prisoners, including Shakil Afridi, the Pakistani physician who helped the United States identify Osama bin Laden.
Trump, who is running for re-election in 2020, has promised to pull out American troops from Afghanistan.
The Trump administration will also press Pakistan on press freedoms and permitting non-government organizations (NGOs) to freely operate. Islamabad has deregistered 18 NGOs.
"We think that the impacts of deregistering them will have a deleterious impact on their democratic institutions and civil society," the senior administration official said.
Commercials talks, including energy, will also be on Trump's agenda with Khan. The United States is interested in a trade mission to Islamabad to discuss supplies of liquefied natural gas and gas-infrastructure development, the senior official said.
The U.S. is the world’s largest producer of natural gas and will account for about half the growth in global gas exports over the next six years, according to the International Energy Agency.
With reporting by Reuters and AFP