WASHINGTON: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is reported to have shortened his visit to the United States from five to three days, cancelling at least two major engagements in the process.
Meanwhile, official circles in Washington have started discussing the possibility of another important visit from Pakistan next month, that of the army chief.
The prime minister had earlier planned to arrive in Chicago on Oct 19 to address a meeting of potential Pakistani-American investors the following day.
The visit to Chicago, however, has been cancelled, apparently because the government fears that the PTI may turn it into a protest against the prime minister, as it did in New York last month when the finance minister went to a mosque to say his Eid prayers.
So the organisers planned a community meeting in Washington on Oct 23. The Chicago meeting was planned jointly by the Pakistan Embassy and the local chapter of PML-N. Hundreds of invitations had already been sent for this meeting by Oct 12, when the invitees received another email from the organisers saying that the event has been cancelled.
Since the organisers offered no explanation, the cancellation caused wild speculations, ranging from a possible PTI protest to the “sensitive nature of the PM’s engagements in Washington that require the PM’s complete attention,” as a local PML-N office-bearer explained.
The prime minister will now arrive in Washington on the night of Oct 20 and leave for home on Oct 23, instead of Oct 24, as originally planned. Mr Sharif and his team will spend the next day, consulting with the senior officials of the Pakistan Embassy who had been busy preparing for the visit for the last two months.
Ambassador Jalil Abbas Jilani and his senior diplomats have held a series of meetings with senior officials of the White House and the State Department, as well as with key US lawmakers, while preparing the prime minister’s agenda for these talks.
On Oct 22, the prime minister will meet President Barack Obama at the White House. Both sides have refused to disclose what the two leaders would be discussing at this meeting.
“We are in regular contact with the government of Pakistan on a range of issues as we prepare for the visit on Oct 22 of Prime Minister Sharif. We’ll decline comment on the specifics of these discussions,” said a US official when asked for comments.
But the PM’s Adviser on Foreign Affairs and National Security Sartaj Aziz told reporters in Islamabad that Mr Sharif would discuss the stalled dialogue between Pakistan and India with the US president. “A number of other issues would also be discussed,” he added.
The prime minister and his team will also have at least one more official meeting, with US Secretary of State John Kerry at the State Department and will also address a think-tank, the US Institute of Peace. His other engagements are still being finalised.
Published in Dawn, October 14th , 2015