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United States President-elect Donald Trump said November 30 that he would love to visit Pakistan, when invited. It is to be noted that President Obama in his eight years of office never came to Pakistan.

Trump’s bombastic New York businessman style call with PM Nawaz Sharif, has created a headache not only for the mandarins in south block who thought they already had him in their court, but also domestically for the opposition leader, Imran Khan, who is fighting Nawaz Sharif in the Supreme Court on the issue of the Panama corruption scandal. On Wednesday, PM Nawaz Sharif called Mr Trump to congratulate him on his victory and on becoming the President-elect for the 45th president of the United States. Both had a pleasant discussion and according to the statement of the call released by the PM house, Mr Trump also said he would love to come to “a fantastic country, fantastic place of fantastic people.”

Trump said, “Please convey to the Pakistani people that they are amazing and all Pakistanis I have known are exceptional people.” He further said, “Your country is amazing with tremendous opportunities. Pakistanis are one of the most intelligent people.”

Trump also praised PM Nawaz Sharif during this telephonic conversation and expressed his desire to meet with him soon. He said that, “as I am talking to you Prime Minister, I feel I am talking to a person I have known for a long time”. According to the Pakistani government’s press release, Trump called PM Nawaz Sharif a terrific guy with a very good reputation and said that “he was doing amazing work which is visible in every way”. This was a reassuring exchange of views, for the Prime Minister, on a day when his legal team was busy fighting, PTI lawyers, in the Supreme Court on the Panama issue.

Trump also hinted a willingness to playing a mediator’s role in resolving the longstanding dispute between Islamabad and New Delhi, by saying, “I am ready and willing to play any role that you want me to play to address and find solutions to the outstanding problems. It will be an honor and I will personally do it.” In October 2016, when asked by an Indian journalist, whether he would support Modi government’s action against Islamabad amid escalating cross-border tensions, Trump said that he would love to see Pakistan and India get along, because he considered both states ‘a very, very hot tinderbox’. But he added he would only mediate if both countries asked him to do so. However, India opposes any third party involvement in the bilateral disputes with Pakistan.

The positive conversation bodes well for Pakistanis’ given earlier negative comments by Trump, during the campaign trail. In October 2015, he expressed his views talking with Hugh Hewitt, on an American radio show, by calling Pakistan “probably the most dangerous” country in the world today and that the only country that can ‘check’ Pakistan is India. He went on to add, “You have to get India involved. They have their own nukes and have a very powerful army. They seem to be the real check. I think we have to deal very closely with India to deal with it (Pakistan).”

During an interview with CNN anchor Anderson Cooper, in March 2016, Trump termed Pakistan “a vital problem” for the US. “Because they have a thing called nuclear weapons. They have to get a better hold of the situation.” Moreover, when he was asked whether he would send in US troops to neutralize Pakistan’s nuclear capability should the country go rogue, Trump replied that he would not reveal his military plans to a potential rival and he wanted to be unpredictable with that. Such statements go back as far as 2011, when NDTV reported that Trump had called for an immediate pull-back on aid to Pakistan unless it did away with its nuclear weapons. He said, “They are not friends of ours. (There are) plenty of other terrorists in Pakistan, we know that.”

On November 10, 2016, Trump had a correspondingly positive conversation with Narendra Modi, where they talked of the friendship between the two countries.  Shalabh Kumar, a key Indian-origin member of Donald Trump’s advisory council, prominent businessman and President of the Republican Hindu Coalition has stated that US President-elect will approve the ‘Pakistan State Sponsor of Terrorism Designation Act’, being introduced by Congressmen Ted Poe and Dana Rohrabacher, to declare Pakistan a terror state. He added, “President Trump and PM Narendra Modi will undoubtedly share a good chemistry and the India-US partnership is expected to touch new heights under a Trump Presidency. Kumar has also told Indian media that Trump would meet Modi soon “perhaps in the first 100 days.” The Republican Hindu Coalition was instrumental in the last days of the Campaign in garnering Hindu vote in favour of Trump in states with large Hindu communities such as Virginia. Trump during a fund raising conference on October 15, 2016 called ‘Shalli (Shalabh Kumar) a ‘great guy and an amazing family’. He promised the American Indian community that upon his presidency “India and the Hindu community will have a true friend in the White House.”

The steering committee selected by Donald Trump has to fill over 4000 government jobs in the next couple of months, and Indian lobbyists are trying hard to influence the composition of these positions.   The real test of his approach towards South Asia will not lie in the use of his blustering adjectives but in the composition of his team. Panadol maybe in short supply in Pakistan at that point.

 

Michael Kugelman is the senior associate for South and Southeast Asia at the Woodrow Wilson Center, where he is responsible for research, programming, and publications on the region. His main specialty is Pakistan, India, and Afghanistan and U.S. relations with each of them. Mr. Kugelman writes monthly columns for Foreign Policy’s South Asia Channel and monthly commentaries for War on the Rocks. He also contributes regular pieces to the Wall Street Journal’s Think Tank blog. He has published op-eds and commentaries in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Politico, CNN.com, Bloomberg View, The Diplomat, Al Jazeera, and The National Interest, among others. He has been interviewed by numerous major media outlets including the New York Times, Washington Post, Financial Times, Guardian, Christian Science Monitor, National Geographic, BBC, CNN, NPR, and Voice of America. He has also produced a number of longer publications on South Asia, including the edited volumes Pakistan’s Interminable Energy Crisis: Is There Any Way Out? (Wilson Center, 2015), Pakistan’s Runaway Urbanization: What Can Be Done? (Wilson Center, 2014), and India’s Contemporary Security Challenges (Wilson Center, 2013). He has published policy briefs, journal articles, and book chapters on issues ranging from Pakistani youth and social media to India’s energy security strategy and transboundary water management in South Asia.

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