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Pakistanis Baffled, Bemused, Buoyant Over Trump's 'Fantastic' Praise

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump gives a thumbs up to the crowd as he walks through the lobby of the New York Times at meeting with editors at the paper in New York on November 22.
U.S. President-elect Donald Trump gives a thumbs up to the crowd as he walks through the lobby of the New York Times at meeting with editors at the paper in New York on November 22.

The office of Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has cited a phone conversation with Donald Trump in which it says the U.S. president-elect described nuclear-armed Pakistan as a "fantastic country" and its embattled prime minister as a "terrific guy."

The exchange, as described by Sharif's side, was followed by a more muted description of the November 30 conversation from the Trump transition team that said the "productive conversation" centered around how the two countries "will have a strong working relationship in the future." Trump's team added that the president-elect "is looking forward to a lasting and strong personal relationship" with Sharif.

Trump’s transition team did not confirm the authenticity of the Pakistani transcript.

The seemingly effusive praise quoted in Sharif's statement appeared to surprise some in Pakistan, a conservative Muslim-majority country that Trump described as "not our friend" during a campaign in which the billionaire real-estate mogul frequently employed anti-Muslim rhetoric.

In the phone conversation with Sharif, the Pakistani government quoted Trump as saying that Pakistan was a "fantastic place" with the most "intelligent" people and "your country is amazing with tremendous opportunities.”

The statement said Trump told Sharif, currently embroiled in a corruption court case, that he has a "very good reputation" and he was doing "amazing work."

Among the extensive references in the Pakistani readout, Sharif's office said Trump told Sharif he was "ready and willing to play any role that you want me to play to address and find solutions to the outstanding problems."

U.S. officials have grappled with Washington's complicated relationship with Pakistan, sending hundreds of millions of dollars in annual aid but publicly questioning Islamabad's commitment to fighting international terrorism.

Pakistan also has fought four wars with regional rival India, which also has nuclear weapons and has enhanced its ties with the United States over the past two decades, particularly in the areas of civil-nuclear cooperation, trade, and security.

It was unclear if Sharif's office intended the passages on Trump speaking to be regarded as direct quotes. The transcript was released by the Pakistani government’s Press Information Department.

The praise attributed to Trump has not gone unnoticed in Pakistan, which saw an outpouring of bafflement, ridicule, and support in the mainstream and social media.

'Fantastic Diplomacy'

The Pakistani Foreign Ministry welcomed Trump's remarks on December 1, saying Islamabad "would like to strengthen...the existing relationship further and we would like to continue working with the new administration when it takes over."

Trump's purported praise made the front pages of many Pakistani newspapers. The Jang newspaper went with the headline: "If Fulfils His Promise, Trump Would Be First U.S. President To Visit Pakistan In Democratic Rule." Trump would be the first U.S. president to visit since George W. Bush during then-military leader Pervez Musharraf's rule in 2006.

Meanwhile, a report in the English-language daily The News said that Trump's alleged promise to visit Pakistan has come as a "pleasant surprise" but cautioned that "only time will prove whether the U.S. president-elect fulfils his promise."

Some social media users also appeared to welcome the phone-call revelations.

"Fantastic diplomacy," Pakistani journalist Waseem Abbasi, who is based in Washington, posted on Facebook.

Other Pakistanis were more skeptical.

Pakistani journalist Ali Salman Alvi tweeted: "Donald Trump has never met PM Nawaz Sharif but Trump knows Sharif has an 'outstanding reputation,' and understands he is a 'terrific man.'"

Journalist Omar Quraishi tweeted: "But Mr Trump do you know most Pakistanis are Muslim - how can they be 'brilliant and exceptional' as well? Won't you stop them entering?"

Another Twitter user, Baba Sattar, posted: "We're all trumped by Trump & Sharif. Yes, hilarious in a sad way. Bigly!"

Others were simply baffled, suggesting the remarks were fake.

CNN journalist Muhammad Lila tweeted that Trump’s remarks were real and "not a spoof."

‘Not A Friend’

Trump’s remarks could come as a relief to many Pakistanis wary of his sharp criticisms of the country in the past.

In January 2012, Trump tweeted: "Get it straight: Pakistan is not our friend. We've given them billions and billions of dollars, and what did we get? Betrayal and disrespect - and much worse. #TimeToGetTough"

Months later, he asked when Pakistan will "apologize to us for providing safe sanctuary to Osama Bin Laden for 6 years?! Some 'ally.'"

Pakistanis have also been suspicious of Trump’s relationship with India. Trump courted Indian-American voters during the campaign and he met Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi last month.

Islamabad relies heavily on U.S. aid and security assistance. U.S. officials have accused Pakistan of not doing enough to crack down on militants group like the Afghan Taliban and Haqqani Network that use the country as a springboard for attacks in neighboring Afghanistan.

Since 2002, Washington has sent around $20 billion in aid to Islamabad for its help combating international terrorism.

There are fears that with Trump at the helm, he might scale back on such aid.

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    Frud Bezhan

    Frud Bezhan is the editor for Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan in the Central Newsroom at RFE/RL. Previously, he was a correspondent and reported from Afghanistan, Kosovo, and Turkey. Prior to joining RFE/RL in 2011, he worked as a freelance journalist in Afghanistan and contributed to several Australian newspapers, including The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.