(CNSNews.com) – President Trump looks set to meet next week with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, his first encounter with the leader of a country whose relationship with the U.S. has been characterized by resentment, distrust – and tens of billions of dollars in U.S. assistance.
Sharif is among the numerous Islamic leaders Trump is expected to meet for the first time during his forthcoming visit to Saudi Arabia, where King Salman is hosting an Arab-Islamic-U.S. summit.
Pakistani media, citing unnamed Foreign Office sources, said the two would likely meet on the sidelines, and that Sharif was preparing a “brief” that would cover Islamabad’s positions on arch-rival India as well as on Afghanistan.
Trump is not known to have spoken to Sharif since his inauguration, although a phone call between the two several weeks after last November’s election raised eyebrows both in the U.S. and across South Asia.
That’s because Pakistan’s government released a purported readout of the call in which it claimed the president-elect had called Sharif “a terrific guy” and used such glowing terms to describe Pakistanis as “amazing,” “exceptional” and “fantastic.”
Pakistani media outlets and pundits reveled in the reported praise, although a much more staid account came from the Trump transition team, which said the two “had a productive conversation about how the United States and Pakistan will have a strong working relationship in the future. President-elect Trump also noted that he is looking forward to a lasting and strong personal relationship with Prime Minister Sharif.”
During Trump’s campaign for the White House, he and Pakistani officials had little good to say about each other.
Last May, Trump accused Pakistan of taking Americans “for a bunch of suckers” and said that, as president, he would get Pakistan to release “in two minutes” Dr. Shakil Afridi, the physician imprisoned after helping the U.S. to track down Osama bin Laden in his hideout near Pakistan’s top military academy in 2011.
Trump added that he was certain the Pakistanis would comply because “we give a lot of money to Pakistan.”
The comment drew a stinging response from Pakistan’s interior minister, Chaudry Nisar Ali Khan.
“Contrary to Mr. Trump’s misconception, Pakistan is not a colony of the United States of America,” he said, adding that Pakistan’s courts, not an American president, would decide Afridi’s fate.
And in response to Trump’s reference to U.S. aid, Khan dismissed it as “peanuts.”
In fact, since 2001, U.S. taxpayers have accounted for more than $33 billion, provided to Pakistan either in direct aid or as reimbursements for counterterrorism efforts.
The country has long been one of the biggest recipients of U.S. foreign assistance – in fifth place last year, sixth place the previous year and fourth place the year before that.
As the campaign progressed, Trump’s style and rhetoric again drew criticism from Pakistan.
After the top U.N. human rights official last fall called politicians like Trump and populists in Europe “xenophobes and bigots,” a Pakistani diplomat at the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva embraced those sentiments.
“The high commissioner has demonstrated his willingness to squarely address the critical issue of racial and religious prejudice being fanned by political leaders in certain regions,” said Pakistan’s Tehmina Janjua, speaking on behalf of the Islamic bloc.
She said Islamic nations wanted religious and political leaders to speak out against “bigots and populists masquerading as patriots and national saviors.”
‘Pakistan is not our friend’
Although Pakistan was not one of the half dozen terror-prone, Muslim-majority countries whose citizens were targeted in Trump’s executive orders earlier this year, Pakistan was linked to the GOP candidate’s original call for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the U.S. “until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on.”
Trump made those comments after the Dec. 2015 terrorist attack in San Bernardino, Calif. by an ISIS-inspired couple – the U.S.-born son of Pakistani migrants and his Pakistani-born wife.
Trump was a critic of the world’s second-largest Islamic state long before his 2016 White House campaign.
“Get it straight,” the entrepreneur tweeted as early as January 2012. “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.”
That tweet, which ended with the hashtag “#TimeToGetTough,” came at a time when bilateral relations were even more strained than usual.
The U.S. Navy SEAL raid on bin Laden’s compound the previous May reinforced U.S. suspicions that Pakistan was sheltering the terrorist – or at least was aware of his whereabouts. It also angered Pakistan because the U.S. forces operated in its territory without permission.
A Haqqani network attack on the U.S. Embassy in Kabul four months later, which U.S. officials said was supported by Pakistan’s military intelligence, and a NATO airstrike that mistakenly killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in November, all added to the poisoned atmosphere.