Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan’s prime minister, is to attend the oath-taking ceremony of India’s newly elected prime minister Narendra Modi, a visit that could help revive stalled peace talks between the nuclear armed south Asian neighbours.
Mr Sharif will also hold a bilateral meeting with Mr Modi, and meet India’s president, the following day before returning to Pakistan.
The confirmation followed three days of suspense after Mr Modi, the leader of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata party, confounded both his supporters and his critics by issuing an unprecedented invitation to leaders of eight South Asian nations, including Pakistan, to attend his swearing in.
The invitations are being seen as a signal that Mr Modi, whose campaign focused heavily on promises to revive the domestic economy, also intends to put greater priority on reviving India’s international diplomacy, which suffered nearly as much as the domestic economy from the leadership vacuum in New Delhi in recent years.
While most regional leaders swiftly accepted, the short notice appeared to cause confusion in Pakistan.
Mr Sharif, who has never visited India in an official capacity, indicated he was keen to attend, a stand supported by Pakistan’s ministry of foreign affairs. But in a reflection of the fragile position of Pakistan’s government, he had to obtain the blessing of the army leadership before he could confirm.
An aide to the premier said the military gave the go-ahead, as it believes that Mr Modi – whose BJP has won the first single-party Parliamentary majority in decades – will be in a position to chart his own course on foreign relations.
“The generals are of the view that Mr Modi carries a very strong mandate” the aide said. “They believe it is important to explore opportunities for resolving disputes”
Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan have fought three wars and a number of other lower level conflicts since their traumatic simultaneous birth as independent nations with the end of British colonial rule in 1947. Pakistan also supports hardline Islamic militants, such as Lashkar-E-Tayyaba, which have consistently targeted India, most spectacularly in the Mumbai terror attacks in 2008.
On the campaign trail, Mr Modi adopted a tough line towards Pakistan, criticising the previous Congress-led administration for wooing Pakistan’s top leadership while Indian soldiers were being killed on the border.
His hawkish rhetoric had fuelled anxiety in Pakistan over future relations between the two countries. But the invitation has raised hopes that Mr Modi will have sufficient political capital to enter dialogue that India’s previous Congress-led administration lacked confidence to pursue.
Mr Modi has indicated his desire to follow in the footsteps of his BJP predecessor, Atal Behari Vajpayee, who struck a deal with Mr Sharif that led to the start of a bus service between Delhi and Lahore.
Ikram Sehgal, a commentator on politics and security affairs, said Mr Sharif’s visit should be more than ceremony. “The visit should not be about just having coffee,” he said. “The is a lot of scepticism in Pakistan over Mr Modi. The prime minister (Sharif) needs to show that beyond just the atmospherics, India and Pakistan can get down to solving their problems”
However, a western diplomat in Pakistan said an immediate sharp improvement in relations was unlikely. “The best you can expect from this visit will be a new beginning,” he said. “Given relations between India and Pakistan, even that could be very promising.”
But any opening could be easily derailed. “These few hardline Islamic militants are a small minority,” the diplomat said. “But their ability to disrupt Indo-Pak relations was highlighted in 2008.”
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