U.S. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said on Sunday President Donald Trump should meet Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan as soon as possible to reset long-difficult U.S. relations with Pakistan and push for a peaceful settlement in Afghanistan.
Graham’s comments come amid efforts to press on with talks between the Taliban and the United States aimed at an agreement to end 17 years of war in Afghanistan.
“I’ve seen things change here and all in a positive direction,” Graham, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee who has generally been a staunch supporter of Trump, told a news conference in Islamabad.
He said a meeting with Khan, who has declared strong support for a peace agreement in Afghanistan, would leave Trump “far more enthusiastic about the region than he is today”.
“With Prime Minister Khan we have a unique opportunity to change our relationship,” he said. A previously transactional relationship, based on rewards for services rendered, should be replaced by “strategic engagement”, including a free trade agreement, he said.
Trump, who has in the past argued for the United States to withdraw from Afghanistan, has made it clear he wants to see a peace accord reached rapidly although the Taliban have so far refused to talk directly with the Afghan government.
Graham’s trip to Pakistan coincided with a visit by Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. special envoy for peace in Afghanistan, and top military commanders including General Joseph Votel, commander of U.S. Central Command.
Khalilzad left Islamabad without announcing a new date for talks with Taliban representatives, who have refused further meetings until the U.S. side agrees to discuss a timetable for withdrawing its forces.
Asked whether there had been confusion over the U.S. message, Graham, who has called for a Senate hearing on Trump’s plans to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria and Afghanistan, said “without a doubt” but added that he did not believe Washington would stand by and allow a Taliban victory.
“The world’s not going to let the Taliban take Afghanistan over by force of arms. That would be unconscionable,” he told Reuters. “Any president who let that happen would go down in history very poorly.”
With Inputs from Reuters.