Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has accepted Narendra Modi‘s invitation to his swearing-in ceremony as the prime minster of India, the first such instance between the two nuclear-armed neighbors who have fought three wars since their independence from the British Empire in 1947.
Modi had extended an invitation to the heads of state of all member nations of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), deemed as a strategic move. Besides Sharif, the prime ministers of Nepal and Bhutan and the presidents of Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and the Maldives will attend the event. Bangladesh will be represented by the speaker of parliament.
Sharif was the last to confirm his attendance, possibly after consultations with the Pakistani army as some have speculated, given the army's historically hardliner stance against India. Political analyst and retired Pakistani general Talat Masood explained the armed forces’ possible influence to Pakistani newspaper the Express Tribune: “I think the army is backing otherwise he would not go. He does not go against the advice of the army.”
Sharif's decision has evoked mixed reactions in Pakistan and India. Omar Abdullah, the chief minister of the north Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir that borders Pakistan, responded positively to the announcement. He tweeted:
Very glad to hear Pak PM has accepted invite, shows that he can prevail over forces inimical to good relations with India. 1/2
— Omar Abdullah (@abdullah_omar) May 24, 2014
He followed this up with:
I hope that this will mark a new beginning in ties between our two countries. The people of J&K will be watching closely. 2/2
— Omar Abdullah (@abdullah_omar) May 24, 2014
Indian columnist and novelist Shobhaa De tweeted:
Nawaz Sharif has taken a gutsy and shareef decision to attend Modi's swearing in ceremony tomorrow. Respect !
— Shobhaa De (@DeShobhaa) May 25, 2014
Across the border, Tariq Vaid, gulf information and PR secretary for Sharif’s party, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PMLN), supported Sharif’s move. He tweeted:
— Tariq Vaid طارق وید (@Tariq_Vaid) May 24, 2014
This is great news, Both modi and sharif are intelligent men who only want good for their people. I hope both of them can get started on resolving some issues like border-clashes. The only challenge is the pak-army, I can only hope that they don't try destroy the talks again like the last time with Vajpeyi [sic].
I saw some people accusing Modi of making this ceremony an extravagant affair and waste of money by inviting these leaders, but on the contrary this only proves to show that Modi doesn't want to waste time ( which is more precious than money ) and he want to get on work right as he take the oath by discussing diplomacy with leaders.
However, a few other users urged caution. User bikaumod commented:
Bhai logs, don't get me wrong, last time jab Vajpayi [sic] ji ne Sharif se hello hello kee thi to Porkistan [sic] Army Kargil pe chadhi baithi thi…
Brothers, don't get me wrong, last time when Vajpayee said “hello hello” to Sharif, the Pakistan Army had climbed and was sitting atop Kargil.
The comment was a reference to the India-Pakistan Kargil conflict in 1999, which derailed the ongoing dialogue between then-Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Nawaz Sharif. Incidentally, Vajpayee was also from the same party as Modi, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Political commentators on both sides of the border hope this event will lead to normalization of relations between the two historically opposed countries. Sharif, who is in favor of normalized ties and greater trade, is at loggerheads with the Pakistani army, which plays a big role in shaping foreign policy.
Modi is viewed with some trepidation by Pakistan because of the riots in the Indian state of Gujarat in 2002 when close to 1,000 Muslims were killed. Modi was the chief minister of the state at the time. Though cleared of any suspicion by the Supreme Court of India, his critics still claim negligence on his part in stopping the violence.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won a simple majority in the recently concluded Indian parliamentary elections. The party won 282 seats, while the BJP-led political alliance, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) won 336 seats. The incumbent Indian National Congress by contrast could muster only 44 seats, and its political alliance the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) managed 59 seats. This is the first clear mandate for a single party in over three decades, and is expected by some to result in clearer and more decisive governance.