ISLAMABAD— Pakistan’s prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, has accepted India’s invitation to attend the inauguration of prime minister-elect Narendra Modi on Monday. The unprecedented move has raised hope of improvement in the usually tense relations between the nuclear-armed rival nations.
An official announcement says Prime Minister Sharif will be traveling to New Delhi on Monday along with his senior advisors and officials, to attend the oath-taking ceremony.
On Tuesday, it says, the Pakistani leader will hold a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and call on India's president before returning home the same day.
It will be the first time in the troubled history of bilateral relations that a Pakistani leader will take part in the inauguration of an Indian prime minister. Many in Pakistan view Modi as an anti-Muslim and anti Pakistan leader. But Sharif was among the first foreign leaders who telephoned and congratulated the Indian prime minister-designate over his Bharatiya Janata Party’s landslide victory in the recent elections.
Some in Pakistan, particularly leaders of Islamist parties, have warned the prime minister against traveling to India, reminding him of Modi’s anti-Pakistan statements during his election rallies.
But Federal Information Minister Pervez Rashid defended the decision, saying Pakistan respects the mandate given to the BJP by Indian people and wants to work with the new Indian government to address bilateral outstanding disputes.
The minister says that the BJP will be ruling India for the next five years and formulate national policies as well as determine the nature of relations with neighboring countries. He said for a pleasant relationship with India, Pakistan will have to engage with the new Indian leadership, talk to them and listen to them by forgetting “the bitter and painful past incidents”.
Pakistan and India have a history of troubled relations and fought three wars since their independence from Britain in 1947. Their long-running territorial dispute over the Himalayan Kashmir region, the cause of two wars, remains the primary source of tensions.
India suspended bilateral engagements early last year after allegations that Pakistani soldiers crossed the disputed Kashmir border and beheaded several Indian soldiers. Islamabad has denied the charges.
Indian authorities have also been reluctant to fully resume a so-called composite peace dialogue with Pakistan unless Islamabad concludes trials of several suspected Islamist militants accused of playing a role in the 2008 terrorist attacks on Mumbai. The decade-old dialogue is aimed at resolving outstanding territorial disputes, including Kashmir.
Foreign ministry spokeswoman Tasneem Aslam insists that resumption of the peace dialogue can help issues like the Mumbai carnage and tensions along the disputed Kashmir border.
“There are issues that both sides would like to bring to the table," Aslam said. "Unless we talk about those issues we have the opportunity to sit across and address Indian allegations, India provides us evidence for those allegations unless we have the opportunity to share with India our concerns and our information and we get down to addressing the more fundamental issues between us things will remain as they are.”
Since taking office nearly a year ago, Prime Minister Sharif has promised to rebuild relations with India as part of his efforts to deal with chronic economic and energy challenges facing Pakistan. Improved relations between the two countries is also seen as vital ahead of an orderly political and security transition in neighboring Afghanistan.