Prime Minister Imran Khan will travel to Washington to meet U.S. President Donald Trump on July 22, the Pakistani foreign ministry said on Thursday, a rare visit between leaders of the sometimes prickly allies.
The visit—Khan’s first to the U.S. since coming to power last year—came at Trump’s invitation, a Pakistani foreign office spokesman said at a weekly briefing, adding: “The focus will be to refresh the bilateral relationship.”
He gave no further details.
The announcement comes as the U.S. is seeking Pakistan’s help in finding a way out of neighboring Afghanistan, where American forces are now in their 18th year of war.
Ostensibly allies, the U.S. and Pakistan relationship has always been bumpy, and Trump has angered Pakistani officials in the past with his aggressive language. The White House believes that Pakistan’s military establishment has long helped fund and arm the Taliban, both for ideological reasons and to counter rising Indian influence in Afghanistan. Pakistan denies the claims and says it has paid the price for its alliance with the U.S. in the so-called “war on terror,” with thousands of its citizens killed in its long struggle with militancy.
Pakistan has given Washington “nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools,” Trump wrote on Twitter at the start of 2018. “They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!”
But Trump is also eager to end the war in Afghanistan, and Washington has long seen Pakistan as key to that outcome.
The U.S. has been holding talks with the Taliban since September last year in hopes of striking a deal, with the seventh round of negotiations currently taking place in Qatar. Khan, for his part, has repeatedly blamed Pakistan’s participation in the “war on terror” for the surge in militant violence at home over the last decade, and has vowed to rebalance Islamabad’s relationship with Washington.
The pair—both celebrities-turned-politicians whose love lives once made regular tabloid fare—have already clashed, with Khan once describing a potential meeting with the U.S. president as a “bitter pill.”
Trump declared last year that he had cancelled assistance worth hundreds of millions of dollars because Islamabad does not do “a damn thing” for the U.S. At the time, Khan hit back at the criticism on Twitter, calling on the U.S. president to name an ally that has sacrificed more against militancy.
Both are described as impulsive and brash, and have been accused of catering to right-wing extremism. Both have also roused the ire of women, with Khan once claiming that feminism has “degraded the role of a mother.”
During last year’s election campaign Khan was often likened to Trump for his populist flair and Twitter tirades. “It is one of the most ridiculous comparisons,” he told AFP during an interview. But he also said he would be prepared to work with Trump to stop the “insanity” in Afghanistan. “This war will only end through talks,” he said.