Sartaj Aziz, Sharif’s adviser, and other officials will accompany him to the May 26 ceremony in the Indian capital, Mohiyuddin Wani, the Pakistani prime minister’s press secretary, said in a phone interview from Islamabad yesterday. It will be the first face-to-face meeting between the leaders of the nuclear-armed neighbors since September.
Heads of state from seven South Asian nations will attend the inauguration, which marks the first time India has invited foreign leaders to a swearing in of a prime minister. Modi’s invitation and Sharif’s attendance are notable because India and Pakistan have fought three wars since 1947 and have an unresolved border dispute over Kashmir.
“It is a good opportunity for breaking the ice,” Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, chief executive of Pildat, an Islamabad-based research group, said by phone from the Pakistani city yesterday. “It will be the first serious contact between the two prime ministers and will set the foundation for a later constructive engagement.”
Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Maldives President Abdulla Yameen, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Nepal Prime Minister Sushil Koirala, Bhutan Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay, Mauritius Prime Minister Navinchandra Ramgoolam and Shirin Chaudhury, Bangladesh parliamentary speaker, have already confirmed their attendance.
India will schedule short individual meetings with the visitors, Foreign Ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin said May 23 before Sharif’s confirmation.
Modi, 63, will be sworn in as India’s prime minister after his party won the first outright majority in parliament in 30 years. During the election campaign, Modi said he would take a more strident position in dealing with neighboring countries than outgoing Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, whose efforts to boost ties with Pakistan were stymied in part by 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai that killed 166 people.
Sharif, 64, who was elected last year to a third term as Pakistan’s prime minister and has promised to improve ties with India, called Modi to congratulate him after the election victory on May 16.
Abdul Basit, the Pakistani high commissioner to India, has said the decisive mandate given to Modi would help improve ties with Pakistan. Since 1988, more than 14,000 Indian civilians and 6,000 security personnel have been killed in violence in the disputed region of Kashmir, according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, which doesn’t give similar figures for Pakistani deaths.
Efforts to create an enduring peace between the two neighbors have failed, though there have been incremental gains over the past decade. Eighteen months ago, India and Pakistan agreed on a new visa regime to make travel between the two countries easier, a measure meant to spur regional trade and establish trust.
“This is a sign of a much more robust partnership with Pakistan,” said G. Parthasarthy, India’s former ambassador to Pakistan, referring to Modi’s invitation. “It sends a clear message that they are very serious about setting the economy right and that starts with a stable neighborhood.”
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