By Manzoor Ahmed
Without mincing words, US President-elect Donald Trump’s ‘Transition Team” has delivered a royal snub to Pakistan for committing a diplomatic breach by making public what Trump was supposed to have told Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in private.
Sharif had called Trump to felicitate the latter and immediately thereafter, his PR set up released what is obviously the Pakistani version of the talk.
Criticism coming from Trump’s team was only to be expected. Press Departments never release exchange of views verbatim. They are couched in neutral language leaving them ambiguous.
In future, no one is ever going to have verbal state to state conversations with Pakistan. They will be in written memo form, leaving little to interpretation.
Angry and hurt Pakistanis are perplexed at the silly decision taken in Islamabad to release the readout. The Nawaz Government has once again shot itself in the foot, so soon after Russia denied its claim that it had been ‘invited’ to join the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
Another thing that has angered the Pakistani intelligentsia is that the current leadership has made CPEC the panacea for all their needs and dreams.
Some thought it was a cheap trick to get India worried about a possible US-Pak warming up when Trump did not indicate any such thing.
Only a few days back, Pakistani railway minister told the National Assembly that the Chinese had vetoed the Pakistani dream demand, also an election-time promise made by Nawaz, that China would supply the bullet train.
The Chinese “laughed at us”, the minister candidly admitted. They were told that Pakistan simply does not have enough people who can pay to travel by a bullet train.
Taking exception to Islamabad making public, not just what Nawaz had said, but also what Trump was supposed to have told him over the phone, the Trump transition team said: “President-elect Trump and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif spoke … had a productive conversation about how the United States and Pakistan will have a strong working relationship in the future.” It was a rare readout of his conversation with a foreign leader.
“President-elect Trump also noted that he is looking forward to a lasting and strong personal relationship with Prime Minister Sharif,” the statement added.
An adviser to the Trump team said the Pakistani readout of the talk had “committed the president-elect to more than what he meant”.
Other members of the Trump team, quoted in American media, pointed out that the Pakistanis overplayed Mr Trump’s offer to play “a role” in resolving Pakistan’s disputes with India.
A highly critical comment on the Pakistani readout, however, came from a former White House press secretary, Ari Fleischer: “It’s entirely inappropriate for the Pakistani government to release what an American president-elect says in the course of a phone call.”
Mr Fleischer, who was a member of former Republican president George Bush’s White House team and is close to the Trump transition team as well, noted that no government releases such readouts.
“We would never release what a foreign leader said to (ex-president) George W. Bush. We would talk about what George W. Bush said. But to release what somebody else says, I am not the spokesperson for Pakistan or any other nation,” he told CNN.
“So, for them to do it is an entire breach of diplomatic protocol and tradition. And if they had done that to me, I would be on the phone right now with their press secretary, chewing him out. The ambassador would be on the phone with their ambassador, chewing the ambassador out. And up and down the chain,” Mr Fleischer added.
The US media has heavily criticised the Pakistani decision to release the readout, agreeing with Mr Fleischer that it was inappropriate.
“Readouts of phone calls between world leaders are usually written safely in order to protect leaders from incidental backlash — like the one the Trump team put out,” CNN noted.
“They’re dry and diplomatic statements summing up conversations using carefully chosen buzzwords.”
The Washington Post called the Pakistani release “a surprisingly candid read” and noted that it “focuses almost entirely on Trump’s contribution to the conversation, and reproduces them in a voice that is unmistakably his (Mr Trump’s)”.
The New York Times called it “a bizarre conversation”, noting that “while not exactly confirming the content, the Trump transition team did acknowledge the call”.
In a commentary on the conversation, the Forbes magazine described Mr Trump’s comments as “cozy, expansive, even flattering,” and warned that “his bluster is more likely to be taken as the initial signal of his administration’s position” on the Pakistan-India dispute.
“It matters that he uses words like ‘very good reputation’, ‘amazing work’, ‘visible in every way’, ‘the most intelligent’, ‘fantastic country’, ‘exceptional people’,” the magazine noted.
“One of the main messages it sends is that he shows no awareness of the issues between the United States, Pakistan and India,” Forbes added.