Pak 'fantastic country', Nawaz Sharif 'terrific guy': Trump

news
01 December 2016

Pakistan, which has long been squirming under the 'hotbed of terrorism' tag, got a boost as US president-elect Donald Trump heaped praise the country - traditionally a troublesome US ally - saying it is a ''fantastic country, fantastic place of fantastic people'', according to an official statement released by Islamabad.

Trump made his effusive comments in a phone conversation on Wednesday with Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, whom he hailed as a ''terrific guy''.

The statement by the government's Press Information Department quoted Trump as saying, ''As I am talking to you prime minister, I feel I am talking to a person I have known for long. Your country is amazing with tremendous opportunities. Pakistanis are one of the most intelligent people.''

According to London's The Guardian, it is unlikely to be a verbatim transcript, with some of the phrasing sounding like the style of a Pakistani note-taker, or possibly Prime Minister Sharif himself, who is regularly teased for his style of English by the Friday Times, a weekly newspaper.

Some observers were surprised by the apparent tone of the conversation.

Although there have been worries that Trump's business interests might lead him to favour India whilst in office, the property magnate said he had nothing but respect for Pakistanis.

He said, ''Please convey to the Pakistani people that they are amazing and all Pakistanis I have known are exceptional people.''

Trump also reportedly said he would ''love'' to visit Pakistan, a country that has not been on the itinerary of a US president since 2006, when George W Bush visited amid extraordinary security precautions.

It is unlikely Sharif was expecting such a torrent of praise when he phoned Trump to congratulate him on his election victory.

Relations between the two countries have been fraught for years, with the Obama administration despairing at Pakistan's harbouring of the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network, two insurgent groups that have used Pakistan soil to launch attacks on US and NATO troops in Afghanistan for more than 15 years.

Current rows between the two countries include US demands for the release from prison of Shakil Afridi, a doctor who helped lead the CIA to the hiding place of former al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden; the withholding of $300 million in ''reimbursements'' to the Pakistani army; and the holding up of a financing deal that would have allowed Islamabad to buy US F16 fighter jets.

But none of those issues appeared to weigh on Trump, who reportedly told Sharif: ''You are doing amazing work which is visible in every way.''

Pakistan will be cock-a-hoop over Trump's apparent enthusiasm for engaging with a country that has few firm international allies.

''I am ready and willing to play any role that you want me to play to address and find solutions to the outstanding problems,'' Trump was reported as saying.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is currently campaigning to diplomatically isolate Pakistan following a serious flare-up of hostilities in Kashmir, the contested Himalayan region the two countries have fought over three times since 1947.

Earlier this year Modi succeeded in persuading Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Bhutan to pull out of a regional SAARC summit that was due to be held in Islamabad in protest at Pakistan's alleged support for militant groups.

Whilst India is strongly opposed to third-party mediation of the Kashmir dispute, Pakistan desperately hopes to ''internationalise'' the issue.





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