President Obama may surprise Pakistan
ISLAMABAD: As an apparent balancing side-trip to his scheduled Indian tour early next month, US President Barack Obama may pay a surprise visit to Pakistan, The Express Tribune has learnt.
A top foreign ministry official has confirmed that Islamabad was making hectic diplomatic efforts to ensure that the US president’s forthcoming trip to the region does include Pakistan.
“We believe the US president must visit Pakistan while touring India. If he does not visit Islamabad, it will not go down well with the public here,” the official added. He said the issue will also be raised in the Pak-US strategic dialogue.
If President Obama accepts the invitation, it would be the first time an American president visits while a democratic government is in place. In the past, US presidents have visited the country only when a military dictator was in power.
Foreign Office spokesperson Abdul Basit said that Pakistan has already extended an invitation but was not aware if the US president was coming to Pakistan.
Although US Embassy spokesperson Alberto Rodriguez said that at the moment President Obama’s itinerary does not include Pakistan, diplomatic and Foreign Office sources claim the visit might be under wraps for security reasons. They say even former US president Bill Clinton did not make public his plan to visit Pakistan in 2000.
Another American diplomat did not rule out the possibility. “As of now, he has no plans to visit Pakistan, but he is the president and he can change his plans anytime,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “So at this moment I cannot confirm or deny his visit.”
Western media reports indicate that the Obama administration is considering a $2 billion package to encourage the army to go after militants in North Waziristan. Sources say President Obama may announce the new package during a visit to Pakistan.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 20th, 2010.