- The Washington Times - Monday, December 5, 2016

The incoming Trump administration will provide Pakistan a “fresh opportunity to burnish its credentials” with Washington, despite the president-elect’s sharp comments on Islamic extremism on the campaign trail, a senior Pakistani diplomat told reporters on a Washington visit Monday.

Tariq Fatemi, special assistant on foreign affairs to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, played down President-elect Donald Trump’s comments regarding Muslims during the rough-and-tumble of the campaign, including the need for “extreme vetting” of immigrants from heavily Islamic countries such as Pakistan, during a reporters’ round table at the Pakistan embassy in Washington.

With tensions and military clashes between Pakistan and India over the perennial sore spot of Kashmir rising in recent weeks, Mr. Fatemi will hold informal meetings with Obama administration officials, as well as “friends and well-wishers” tied to Mr. Trump’s transition team in New York, part of an early outreach to establish links with the next U.S. administration.

“I have some experience in what [American] campaign rhetoric is,” Mr. Fatemi said, noting his experience serving as a senior Pakistani diplomat to the U.S. going back to the Nixon administration.

The stance being taken by Mr. Trump and his national security adviser nominee, former Gen. Mike Flynn, on the need to confront “radical Islamic terrorism” will not interfere with the “confluence of interests” and mutual goals of the United States and Pakistan, he added.

Mr. Trump’s early interactions with Pakistan got an unusual airing when the Sharif government made public a readout of the prime minister’s congratulatory phone call to the president-elect, where Mr. Trump reportedly went on about the “fantastic” Pakistani people, spoke of the “tremendous opportunities” between Washington and Islamabad both regionally and globally, and said his administration would be “ready and willing to play any role you want me to play” in addressing the “outstanding problems” facing Islamabad.

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Mr. Fatemi declined to comment on whether Mr. Trump’s offer indicated the incoming administration would be willing to strengthen its ties to Islamabad, at the expense of Washington’s relationship with India. Some of Mr. Trump’s advisers have also complained the Pakistanis are reading more into Mr. Trump’s polite comments than was justified.

The call certainly “created interest and excitement” within U.S. political and diplomatic circles regarding the heightened tensions between Pakistan and India, he said, adding “we are in no way disappointed” in that result. Pakistan media reports say Mr. Sharif is even weighing a trip to Washington next month to attend Mr. Trump’s inauguration, although the trip hasn’t been confirmed.

“This is a fresh opportunity to burnish [Pakistan‘s] credentials” as a strong Muslim democracy and U.S. ally in South Asia to achieve both countries’ “bilateral, regional and global” national security and foreign policy goals, the aide said.

His comments come as the Russian defense ministry confirmed this week that Moscow and Islamabad will conduct joint military exercises next year. Pakistan will begin buying arms from Russia for the first time in decades, seen at the time as a way to counter India’s growing alliance with Washington.

Pakistan fears that Indian influence has pressured the Obama administration to “divert attention away from the [conflict]” in Kashmir and “scapegoat Pakistan” as the cause for the recent flare up in violence in the country.

New Delhi announced in October it had carried out a series of airstrikes against suspected terrorist targets inside Kashmir, Reuters reported.

The strikes were in response to a Sept. 18 attack on an Indian army base in Uri, miles from the dividing “Line of Control” separating the Indian- and Pakistani-controlled regions inside the disputed and divided province.

For his part, Mr. Fatemi said Islamabad is committed to a “constructive dialogue” with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi tamp down violence in Kashmir. “But Prime Minister Modi has his own agenda,” he added.

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