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special to the tribune
US President's R-Day visit
Sharif gets consolation call from Obama
Ashish Kumar Sen in Washington DC

Nawaz Sharif, Pak Pm
Nawaz Sharif, Pak Pm

Prime Minister Narendra Modi bagged a visit from Barack Obama, while his Pakistan counterpart Nawaz Sharif received a consolation prize of a phone call from the US President.

Obama called Sharif on Friday hours after the White House announced that the President had accepted Modi’s invitation to be the chief guest at Republic Day celebrations in New Delhi on January 26. Obama will be the first US President to visit India twice while still in office.

The White House said Obama called Sharif to “discuss efforts by the United States and Pakistan to advance shared interests in a stable, secure, and prosperous Pakistan and region”.

While the White House readout of the call made no mention of Obama’s trip to India, a statement from Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry said Obama had informed Sharif of his travel plans.

Sharif recalled his invitation to Obama to visit Pakistan and “conveyed the expectation of the people of Pakistan to welcome President Obama to Pakistan sometime in the future,” the Pakistan Foreign Ministry said. Obama “assured the Prime Minister that he would undertake a visit to Pakistan at an early date, as soon as the situation normalises in the country”, it added.

Obama’s decision to avoid Pakistan is a sign of how bad things have turned between Washington and Islamabad. His two immediate predecessors visited Pakistan, albeit briefly.

In 2000, Bill Clinton spent less than six hours in Pakistan after slipping into Islamabad in a cloak-and-dagger trip that was fiercely resisted by the Secret Service. “In the preparations for the 2000 visit, the service dug its heels in, repeatedly confronting the top (National Security Council) officials with horror scenarios,” Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon, two counterterrorism directors on Clinton’s National Security Council staff, wrote in their book “The Age of Sacred Terror.”

“There was danger to Air Force One from ground fire. No one trusted the Pakistani military to keep travel routes in the country secret or secure. The service said it could not perform its mission: it could not protect the president,” they added.

Clinton’s visit to Pakistan followed a five-day trip to India where the American president was treated like a rock star.

In 2006, President George W Bush stopped off in Islamabad on his way back from a visit to India. The Americans were so concerned about an attack on the President’s aircraft that Air Force One flew into Islamabad at night without lights to conceal the plane’s profile. Unlike Clinton, Bush spent the night in Pakistan.

US-Pakistan ties hit a low point in 2011 following a US commando raid on May 2 that resulted in the death of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in his hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

Obama first visited India in November of 2010.

In his phone call with Obama on Friday, Sharif urged the President to discuss Kashmir with Modi, and the foreign ministry said Islamabad remains “open to the resumption of bilateral dialogue, the onus is on India to create a conducive environment in this regard”.





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