President Barack Obama has told Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif that the situation in Pakistan must normalise before he can visit that country.
Obama conveyed this blunt message to Sharif in a phone conversation last week, during which he also informed the Pakistani leader of his plan to visit India in January.
Obama will be chief guest at the coming Republic Day parade — the first US president to do so. He will also be the first US President to visit India twice while still in office.
Sharif reminded Obama of his longstanding invitation to visit Pakistan — “the expectation of the people of Pakistan to welcome President Obama to Pakistan sometime in the future”, said the Pakistani foreign office in a statement on Friday.
The President told Sharif he would visit Pakistan at an early date “as soon as the situation normalises in the country”, said the Pakistani statement.
The damning comment was, interestingly, mentioned only in the Pakistan foreign office statement, not in the one issued by the White House.
Pakistan’s Dawn, a leading news publication, took note of Obama’s comment but wondered if the President was referring to the security situation or recent political unrest.
“It was as if the PM was being told to fix the mess at home before pressing the President to visit,” said a source in the Indian security establishment.
The phone call did not go too well for Sharif. Bringing up Kashmir, Sharif urged “Obama to take up the cause of Kashmir with the Indian leadership, as its early resolution would bring enduring peace, stability and economic cooperation to Asia”, said the Pakistani foreign office.
But the White House made no mention of Kashmir, which, observers concluded, was a polite “no”.
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”.
Rest of the conversation, according to the White House, was about bilateral strategic dialogue, their commitment to combat terrorism and extremism and Pakistan’s improved relations with Afghanistan.
US Presidents visiting South Asia were once expected to visit both India and Pakistan, and not just one country, under the demands of a hyphenated arrangement.
Obama dispensed with it when he went to India in November 2010. Pakistan was not his itinerary. India and Pakistan had been de-hyphenated, said observers.