Indian PM-elect Modi invites Pakistan counterpart Sharif to inauguration

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 21 May, 2014, 11:21pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 21 May, 2014, 11:21pm

Narendra Modi has invited the leaders of Pakistan and other neighbours to his inauguration as prime minister, a spokeswoman for his party said yesterday, in a bold step to embark on a policy of regional engagement.

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will be on the guest list of leaders from the eight-member South Asia Association for Regional Co-operation invited to attend Modi's swearing in on Monday, spokeswoman Nirmala Sitharaman said.

"All the Saarc countries have been invited through the proper channels to be part of the swearing-in ceremony," Sitharaman said. It was not clear if Sharif would accept, as analysts said the visit would be politically difficult.

If the Pakistani prime minister were to attend the planned ceremony in the forecourt of the presidential mansion, it would be a first in the history of the nuclear-armed rival nations, who have fought three wars since independence in 1947.

Pakistan's high commission in New Delhi said it had not yet received an invitation, which must be issued formally by the foreign ministry. Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa would participate in the inauguration, his office said.

The victorious Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party has long advocated a tough stance on Pakistan and Modi is seen as a hardliner on issues relating to national security.

But his huge victory in the election 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 a raft of 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 Pakistan, but Singh declined.

Sharif is known to have faced resistance from hardliners at home, notably within the armed forces, over his more dovish stance towards India.