Obama is no stranger to Pakistan


LAHORE: The 44th president-elect of the United States Barack Hussain Obama is no stranger to Pakistan as he had traveled to Karachi in 1981 as a college student at the age of 20 and stayed in the Sindh province for full three weeks while his mother had worked as a consultant to the Asian Development Bank for five long years in one of the least developed cities of Punjab – Gujranwala –considered one of the biggest slums of South Asia.

Addressing a fundraiser at San Francisco on April 5, 2008, Obama, an African-American, had referred to a 1981 trip he had made to Pakistan during his college years 27 years ago. A New York Times report of April 6, 2008 quoted Obama as having said in his speech that he actually came to know of the disparity between Sunni and Shia Islam only after his Pakistan visit. The paper said his mentioning of Pakistan was apparently aimed at boosting his foreign policy credentials to offset those of his contenders Senator John McCain and Senator Hillary Clinton. “Foreign policy is the area where I am probably most confident that I know more and understand the world better than Senator Clinton or Senator McCain”, the newspaper quoted Obama as having said in his April 5, 2008 speech.

His campaign press secretary Bill Burton subsequently gave inquiring journalists more details of Obama’s Pakistan visit. US today of April 10, 2008 quoted Bill as saying: “Mr Obama had visited Pakistan for three weeks after visiting his mother Mrs. Ann Dunham and half-sister, Maya Soetoro, in Indonesia. He had traveled with a college friend whose family used to live in Karachi”. As a matter of fact, Obama had traveled to Pakistan after leaving Occidental College in Los Angeles in 1981 to transfer to the Columbia University in New York. The Afghan war was at its peak at that time following the invasion of Afghanistan by the Russian troops and the US State Department had already issued a warning for Americans traveling to Pakistan.

An August 14, 2008 report by the Associated Press even alleged that Obama had actually traveled to Pakistan under his Muslim name – Barry Soetero – while using an Indonesian passport. As a matter of fact, Barack Obama Junior was born to Barack Obama Senior, a black Kenyan, and Ann Dunham, a white American. Barack Obama Senior and Mrs Ann Dunham were divorced when their son Obama was two. Obama Senior, who had died in a car accident in 1982, met his son only once after the divorce. Ann Dunham later married Lolo Soetoro, an Indonesian Muslim.

Barack Obama reportedly had many Pakistani friends during his college days, and it was friendship that brought him to Pakistan. In his memoir, Dreams from My Father, Obama talks of having a Pakistani roommate when he moved to New York, a man he calls Sadik (his 1982 roommate at an apartment at a sixth-floor walkup on East 94th Street). Obama describes Sadik as a short, well-built Pakistani who smoked marijuana, snorted cocaine and liked to party. During his years at the Occidental College, Barack befriended Wahid Hamid, a fellow student and an immigrant from Pakistan. Wahid Hamid is now a vice president at Pepsico in New York. His third Pakistani friend was Imad Husain, a Pakistani, who is now a Boston-based banker.

During his Pakistan visit, Obama is reported to have stayed in Karachi with the family of his college friend Hassan Chandeo. Now a self employed financial consultant living in Armonk in Westchester County of New York, Hassan Chandeo took his African-American college friend on traditional partridge hunting trips to Hyderabad, Larkana, Shikarpur and Jacobabad districts. Partridge hunting is considered a symbol of good hospitality in Sindh. Barack Obama made friends with a Sindhi politician Muhammadmian Soomro as well, who hails from the Shikarpur district of Sindh and is the Chairman of Senate. The newly elected American President reportedly lived at Muhammad Ali Society residence of Ahmad Mian Soomro, the father of Muhammadmian Soomro.

Going by international media reports, Obama may have visited Pakistan again in the second half of 1980 and stayed there for a month with his mother who was an employee of the Ford Foundation and posted in the Gujranwala city as a microfinance consultant for an Asian Development Bank micro credit finance project that ran from 1987 to 1992. The report said that Mrs. Dunham, who died in Hawaii – Obama’s birth place — in 1995 from ovarian cancer, used to stay at Hilton International Hotel in Lahore. She traveled daily from Lahore to Gujranwala and Obama stayed with her in the same hotel which has been already renamed as Avari Hotel, the report added.


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