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May 25, 2014

Nawaz to attend Modi’s oath-taking ceremony tomorrow

May 25, 2014

ISLAMABAD: After mulling the pros and cons with his aides and confidants in the cold light of day, Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif has accepted Indian Prime Minister-elect Narendra Modi’s invitation to attend his swearing-in ceremony on May 26.
Sharif’s decision has been hailed as a step in the right direction to give peace a chance. He will stay in the Indian capital for a day after attending the swearing-in ceremony.
This will be Sharif’s first meeting with Modi, a newcomer to Delhi, as the Indian leader spent most of his time in Gujarat as its chief minister away from the diplomatic scene in New Delhi even when the BJP was in government.
A final decision from Sharif came five days after Modi sent an official invitation on May 21, giving the prime minister here enough time to consult his aides, cabinet members and the Foreign Office.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has welcomed the decision of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to attend the swearing-in ceremony.
The BJP spokesman said it was very good news that Nawaz Sharif had accepted Modi’s invitation. “This would mark the start of a new relationship between Pakistan and India,” he added.
As usual, amongst the Saarc leaders who will be represented at the oath-taking, all eyes will be on Sharif and his every move will be relayed live by TV cameras. In fact, regional leaders have traditionally complained that Pakistan and India hijack Saarc summits.
Kashmiri leader Omer Abdullah captured this predicament in a tweet when he wrote: “Can’t help feel sorry for others taking oath or attending because the only photo op that will matter now will be the Modi-Sharif handshake”.
Criticism of Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksha will be apparent from Tamil leaders in India who had insisted that Rajapaksha should not be invited.
The final decision was taken on Friday night after a meeting between Sharif’s troubleshooter Shahbaz Sharif and army chief General Raheel Sharif in

Lahore so that all stakeholders were on board and the announcement was made by the prime minister’s office on Saturday morning. Luckily, hawks like Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar were kept at arm’s length.
The final decision was also delayed as Sharif was keen that instead of just crossing over the eastern border for a photo-op, an opportunity should be there for a bilateral meeting with the prime minister-designate to make a fresh beginning.
After all, Sharif is on record as saying that he will enter into a fresh trade agreement with India once a new government was in place.
Also important for Sharif would be to get a commitment from Modi, known to think outside the box, that now was the time to restart the composite dialogue so that a series of uninterrupted talks could give a boost to bilateral relations.
When Sharif lands in New Delhi airport on Monday, his hands will be strengthened as he will have the backing of not only the people of Pakistan, but all the major political parties and the security establishment which controls relations with India.
The same day as a gesture of goodwill, Pakistan will be releasing 150 jailed Indian fishermen, a time-old tradition in which human beings are used by both countries as pawns.
Except for the fringe and ignorable elements outside the democratic process, like the Punjabi jihadis, especially the Jamaat-ud-Dawa’s Hafiz Saeed who opposes the visit, everyone has rooted for Sharif to go into a meeting with Modi.
Sharif, says a statement from his office, would be accompanied by his security and foreign policy team for whom this will also be their first meeting with the incoming Indian government.
According to the Foreign Office, Sharif will meet with Modi on Tuesday morning. The prime minister will also call on the President of India before returning home later that evening.
Sharif’s aides have been cautioning that no big announcements are expected.
As usual, the Indian electronic media has become ballistic, first taunting Sharif to be his own boss and now bringing up all past disputes and insisting that Modi should be firm with Sharif.
Modi’s slogan during elections was, “Terrorism divides, tourism unites” — an issue which is of great urgency for both countries.
Outside the election rhetoric, the BJP is responding more like a government in charge with one senior leader Arun Jaitley saying that the invite showcases India’s faith in both democracy and greater integration of the region.
“The invitation to all leaders of Saarc nations to be present at the ceremony is to showcase Indian democracy and its strength to the world at large. It is a democracy event and should not be viewed through the prism of bilateral issues between countries,” he added.
While diplomatic sources in Delhi tell The News that the little known wife of Modi has already been given protocol befitting the future prime minister’s wife, in Pakistan two women stood out on the social media asking Sharif to take a bold step and respond positively to Modi’s invite.
Maryam Nawaz Sharif was encouraged by the stance of the PPP and one of its leaders Ambassador Sherry Rehman and passed her tweets on to Sharif.
“Good news, moving on from stalemate Nawaz Sharif, Narendra Modi to hold bilateral meeting on May 27”, tweeted Rehman.
Responded Maryam,” I personally think cordial relations with the new Indian govt should be cultivated. Will help remove psychological barriers, fear & misgivings.”
In New Delhi, Siddarth Varadarajan, a former editor and now at the Shiv Nadar University, said: “A giant leap for Modi and Nawaz Sharif, a small step for India, Pakistan, but here’s hoping that from small steps will come bigger ones. Now let’s not burden this event with a rush of expectations just yet”.
Others like defence and security analyst Ejaz Haider is not impressed.
He told The News: “Sharif would have done well to send Speaker of the National Assembly perhaps accompanied by his National Security Adviser instead of going himself. That way he would have responded to the gesture graciously while signalling that Pakistan retains its own position within Saarc and by extension in relation to India and its aspirations within and beyond the region”.
He sees a ‘deeper irony’ saying that while the PML-N government backed off from movement on trade, which would have been a substantive development, it has walked right up to a table which looks great but where the serving is only for Mr. Modi.”

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