Unprecedented: Nawaz accepts Modi’s invitation

* PM, two advisers to leave for India on Monday for two-day visit * Will hold one-on-one meetings with Modi, Indian president

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will attend Indian prime minister-elect Narendra Modi’s inauguration ceremony on Monday, in a first in the history of the South Asian neighbours.
“In response to an invitation for the oath-taking ceremony of prime minister-elect of India, Mr Narendra Modi, the prime minister will be travelling to New Delhi on May 26, 2014,” the Foreign Office said in a statement on Saturday.
The prime minister will be accompanied by Adviser to Prime Minister on National Security and Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz, Special Assistant on Foreign Affairs Tariq Fatemi, Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhry and Secretary Javed Aslam.
“According to the programme received from India, the prime minister will have a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Modi on the morning of May 27. The prime minister will also call on the president of India. He will return to Pakistan in the afternoon of May 27,” the statement said.
Nawaz will be Pakistan’s fourth government head to visit India in over three years. He would be Pakistan’s sixth top government functionary to visit India in almost 13 years.
The announcement has laid to rest the speculations suggesting Nawaz may not visit India. “The guess work was abuzz because it took the government three days to announce the decision,” a diplomatic source said, adding that the prime minister had already ‘made up his mind’ to accept the invitation. The decision, he said, was not made public earlier on account of the political sensitivities involving the matter.
Earlier on Thursday, the Foreign Office said it wanted ‘uninterrupted and uninterruptible’ dialogue process with India to resolve all the issues, including the core issue of Jammu and Kashmir.
FO spokesperson Tasnim Aslam told the weekly press briefing that Pakistan would bring all outstanding issues on the table with India if any meeting of Nawaz Sharif took place anytime with Narendra Modi. She said that Pakistan had expectations that India would come forward for the resumption of ‘meaningful and constructive composite dialogue process’.
“We hope that when the new government takes over, the kind of atmosphere that prevailed during the election rallies will be left behind and we will get down to the business of statecraft.”
Lat visit by an Indian head of state or government (president or prime minister) to Pakistan was in February 1999 when the then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee visited Lahore on the invitation of Nawaz Sharif. From Pakistan’s side, then president General Pervez Musharraf (July 2001), then prime minister Shaukat Aziz (November 2004), then prime minister Yousaf Raza Gillani (March 2011), then president Asif Ali Zardari (April 2012) and then prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf (March 2013 on a private tour) visited India.
AFP adds: Modi will take the oath as prime minister on Monday, 10 days after his right-wing Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) scored a landslide victory, securing the first majority by a single party in 30 years. Nawaz Sharif has hailed Modi’s ‘impressive victory’ and many diplomats hope the two men can thaw ties between the neighbours.
Nawaz has cited his working relationship with Atal Bihari Vajpayee, India’s last prime minister with the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as a reason for optimism, according to diplomatic sources. It was during Sharif’s second term in 1999 that Vajpayee rode a bus to Lahore to sign a peace accord, raising the prospect for normalisation between the two neighbours.

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