ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — The morning papers were giddy with hyperbole on Thursday over the news that Donald Trump had spoken to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif by phone a day earlier and showered compliments on a country he once accused of “betrayal and disrespect” — even offering to help the nuclear power solve its problems abroad.
“ ‘Call me any time,’ Trump tells PM,” touted the Express Tribune, describing the “instant rapport” between the two leaders during the congratulatory call initiated by Sharif. His office then released a readout of the call. The newspaper also suggested that the U.S. president-elect, who called Pakistan a “fantastic country” with “fantastic people,” might “prove to be Islamabad’s good friend.”
By the end of the day, though, the official tone had become more circumspect and commentators were skeptical that Trump, who has little foreign-policy experience and has close business relations with Pakistan’s archrival, India, really was ready to weigh in on the thorny issues that have long roiled the Muslim nation’s international relations.
“Our relationship with the United States is not about personalities — it is about institutions,” said Nafees Zakaria, a spokesman for the Pakistani Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Describing Sharif’s gesture as a “courtesy call,” Zakaria said Pakistan would welcome any effort by Trump to ease regional tensions, but the spokesman added, “We do not comment on bilateral relations between sovereign countries.”
Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri, an analyst and former foreign minister, observed that although “Mr. Trump is a warmhearted person,” he “lacks expertise in foreign policy” and is not yet in office. Noting the obvious “excitement” shown by Sharif’s office over the conversation, Kasuri said, “One nice call . . . is not something we read too much into.” Trump, he added archly, “could have been equally effusive with Indian Prime Minister [Narendra] Modi.”
The reaction in India, not surprisingly, was cooler still. India and Pakistan have been at loggerheads over the Himalayan region of Kashmir for decades, but India has always opposed Pakistan’s desire to have the United States or other countries play a mediation role. Tensions have escalated in recent months, with deadly border attacks against Indian forces and harsh repression of protesters in the Indian-administered portion of Kashmir.
“Insofar as the fantastic conversation is concerned . . . I would reserve my judgment,” said Vikas Swarup, a spokesman for India’s Ministry of External Affairs. “We have seen only a one-sided version of that conversation.” Swarup said India would welcome a “dialogue” between Pakistan and the United States to resolve outstanding issues but specified that “the most outstanding” issue is “Pakistan’s continued support to cross-border terrorism.”
Many comments posted on social media in India were derisive and mocking, as were many comments from Pakistanis. Some made fun of Sharif, who is accused of hiding financial assets abroad, casting him as desperate for foreign friends. Some derided both leaders as corrupt “scammers” who would get along famously as a result.
“So where is the new Trump Tower in Pakistan actually going to be?” one post asked.
Annie Gowen and Rama Lakshmi in New Delhi contributed to this report.