NEW DELHI: Ending the suspense, Pakistan finally announced that its Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will attend the swearing-in ceremony of PM-designate Narendra Modi on Monday. A bilateral meeting will be held the following day.
The announcement came on Saturday — three days after invitations were sent out to eight foreign leaders.
The Pakistan PM will be accompanied by a delegation comprising his Advisor on National Security and Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz, Special Assistant Tariq Fatemi and Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhry among others. Even though Sharif has been PM twice before, this will be his first official visit to India. This is also the first official trip of a Pakistani Premier since Pervez Musharraf’s visit in 2005.
A statement from the Pakistan foreign office said Sharif will also call on President Pranab Mukherjee on Tuesday.
The delay in accepting the invite had been attributed to resistance from the Army and Islamist groups. All the other invited foreign leaders had sent their confirmation within 24 hours.
In order to deflect expectations, officials from both sides pointed out that any meeting held on such short notice and within a tight schedule was unlikely to have substance. In Delhi, External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin described the meeting as “courtesy”.
The Sharif administration had to assuage hardline quarters who were inimical to any outreach to the new Indian leadership, especially to Modi who has been portrayed as overtly aggressive in the Pakistani media. With bad blood between civilian and Army factions already increasing, the military was keen to be acknowledged as having the veto in foreign affairs related to India.
Last night, Sharif’s brother Shahbaz Sharif met Pakistan Army chief Raheel Sharif, where he likely got the green signal. Former foreign secretary Lalit Mansingh told Express that the Pakistan Army probably agreed to the visit only after setting the rule that no bilateral concessions be announced.
According to Ajai Sahni from the Institute of Conflict Situation, Sharif was in a “no-win” situation. “His advisor probably told him that if he did not come it would be churlish, especially since all the other leaders would be attending,” said Sahni.
The other issue that will have to be monitored is if Sharif meets Kashmiri separatist Hurriyat leaders — an unbroken tradition of all Pakistan leaders on their visits to India. Last year, when Sartaj Aziz met the Hurriyat Conference in Delhi, BJP had reacted furiously. So far, Hurriyat leaders said they haven’t been contacted by the Pakistan High Commission. “If Sharif does meet Hurriyat, it will be a negative signal, while if he skips this tradition, it would be an undeniable gesture of conciliation to the new government. Either way, it will set the tone,” Mansingh said.
BJP BACKS MOVE
The BJP on Saturday said the swearing-in ceremony is meant to showcase India’s democracy and should not be viewed through the prism of bilateral issues. Meanwhile, the Congress said while photo opportunities are okay, Modi should not compromise on national interest.