New Delhi, May 22 – The Pakistan government on Thursday denied reports that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has decided to attend the swearing-in ceremony of India’s Prime Minister-designate Narendra Modi.
Pakistan’s Foreign Office has said that no decision had yet been finalised on the visit, reported Dawn. The report quoted Foreign Office spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam as saying that India’s invitation had been received and Nawaz Sharif’s office had been notified.
But she said reports in Indian media on Sharif accepting the invitation were wrong. The same report, citing Pakistan’s diplomatic sources, had said Sharif could take a final decision after consultating “stakeholders”.
With Narendra Modi set to be sworn in as India’s 14th prime minister on Monday, all eyes are now set on the list of guests in his oath-taking ceremony. While Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai and Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapaksa have confirmed they will attend the ceremony, Maldives President Abdulla Yameen is likely to be present too.
Bangladesh premier Sheikh Hasina is travelling to Japan and will most likely send a representative. However, what people are keenly watching is the representation of Pakistan in the grand ceremony. Sharif is on the guest list of leaders from the eight-member regional group invited to attend the function.
“India’s Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh writes to SAARC counterparts inviting their leaders to attend swearing-in ceremony on 26th May,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin wrote on social media website Twitter. But analysts said the visit will be politically difficult.
China has built a port in Sri Lanka and is involved in upgrading another in Bangladesh, besides its military and civil assistance to long-time ally Pakistan, heightening Delhi’s anxieties of being boxed in.
“Politically, inviting the regional leaders is a smart move,” said C. Raja Mohan, an influential foreign policy analyst. “As the largest country in the region, India should be reaching out to its neighbours.” Even Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah called it an “excellent move” in a tweet.
Even if Sharif cannot come, the new administration in New Delhi is signalling its wish to re-engage with the neighbour, analysts said.
The victorious BJP has long advocated a tough stance on Pakistan and Modi is seen as an uncompromising hardliner on issues of national security.
But his huge election victory also gives him the political capital to reach out to difficult neighbours, including Pakistan, in a way his predecessor Manmohan Singh could not, weakened by graft scandals and public discontent at home. After his own election last year, Sharif’s administration had also suggested that the Indian prime minister be invited to attend the ceremony, but Singh declined.
Sharif is known to have faced resistance from hardliners at home, notably within the armed forces, over his dove-like stance toward India.
Over the past few weeks, representatives from India and Pakistan have been in touch both on the official track as well as backchannels, as Modi emerged as the election front-runner.
Pakistan’s high commissioner, Abdul Basit, has been meeting BJP members to convey his country’s willingness to engage meaningfully with India’s new government, The Economic Times reported, citing unnamed government sources in Pakistan.
Jitendra Kumar, an associate of Modi’s from the Hindu parent body Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, said he visited Pakistan last month to meet Sharif’s foreign affairs adviser, Sartaj Aziz. Kumar, an energy consultant in the United States, said he had frank discussions with the leaders of Pakistan.
“I seriously believe that Pakistan is interested in improving relations with India,” said Kumar. “The Pakistanis are very sincere. “My expectation is that things will improve. (Modi) is a good administrator.”