Trump’s ‘fantastic’ call to Pakistan’s ‘terrific’ prime minister receives mixed response

Pakistan Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif
Pakistan Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif at the Global Sustainable Transport Conference at Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, November 26, 2016. (Image from the Prime Minister's Office of Pakistan web site/MEDILL)

By Shahzeb Ahmed

When it comes to foreign policy and diplomatic relations, most world leaders tend to stick to the script of mundane diplomatic-speak and inert compliments.

President-elect Donald Trump’s call to Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif sounded anything but ordinary. “You are a terrific guy,” Trump told Sharif, per a transcript released by Sharif’s office of the call the prime minister initiated to congratulate the U.S. President-elect on his election victory on Wednesday. “You are doing amazing work which is visible in every way.”

The President-elect, whose rhetoric against Muslims has made him a controversial figure at best in Pakistan, went on to say that he “would love” to visit Pakistan — “a fantastic country, fantastic place of fantastic people.”

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

The contents of the transcript came as a surprise to many in the two countries as it is against the norm to release such material in the diplomatic sphere. More than that, however, it raised several questions in the minds of policy experts who were taken by surprise as much by its candidness as by its content.

Rizwan Kadir, President of The Pakistan Club of the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, was skeptical at best. “When I first saw the news on Facebook, I immediately checked for the source because I thought it was satire,” he chuckled.

“I wonder if he used the same script for every world leader he spoke to. It looked like a script where you just change the name of the leader,” he said. “He’s saying I will do whatever you ask me to do: most Americans would be offended by that. No head of state should talk like this. This is cheap salesmanship,” he added.

Talat Rashid, a Pakistani-born Chicago-based businessman who has been supporting Trump since the start of his candidacy, sounded more hopeful. “Listen, most Pakistani Americans have been calling him names and speaking out against him since the start,” he said. “Now that he has asserted that he wants to mend bridges, we must be thankful,” he said, referring to Trump’s promise that he was “ready and willing to play any role that you want me to play to address and find solutions to the outstanding problems,” per the transcript.

“Whatever he says, he will deliver it,” said Rashid firmly. “He is a businessman. He wants to deliver. He wants to show world leaders that he is ready to work with everybody, even those who spoke ill of him.”

Faisal Niaz Tirmizi, the Pakistan Consul-General in Chicago, echoed his sentiment. “Pakistan and the U.S. share a very strong bilateral relationship,” he said. “We have a very strong tradition in history spread over the last almost 70 years.” He added that Pakistan owed a lot to the U.S. in terms of developmental assistance and building of institutions.

“I am pretty hopeful, frankly,” he said of his expectations of the new administration. “Off course, it is not an easy relationship and we have some serious issues but all relationships have issues.” He was, however, hopeful that the two countries would continue to collaborate in the various sectors such as security, education and building energy infrastructure in Pakistan.

Photo at top courtesy of Siobhan Silke via Flickr