All Eyes Will Be on Sharif at Modi Event

NEW DELHI: Suspense over whether Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif would attend the swearing-in ceremony of Narendra Modi continued throughout Thursday.

Decision on Sharif attending Modi’s swearing-in is likely to be taken on Friday morning, PTI quoted Pakistan foreign ministry sources as saying at night.

The Monday function is already set to be historic with the attendance of several other heads of state already being confirmed.

Sharif, who has been Pakistan Prime Minister thrice, has never been to India on an official tour. If he attends the function, the move may prove pivotal for efforts to improve the relationship between the two countries.

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) spokesperson Prakash Javadekar said Modi wants to follow in the footsteps of former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee by reaching out to the neighbours.

“Atalji had once said that we can choose our friends, but not our neighbours, and Narendra Modi says he wants to work like Atalji. He is a far thinking leader, and besides, our relationship has not been good with the other nations in the last 10 years,” said Javadekar.

After his own election last year, Sharif’s administration had suggested inviting the Indian PM to his launching ceremony, but Modi’s predecessor Manmohan Singh declined.

The unprecedented invitation has been widely reported in the foreign media and widely acclaimed at home, especially in Kashmir, which is the biggest casualty of the strained relations between India and Pakistan.

Modi’s invitation to the leaders of seven Saarc (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) countries, even before officially taking over as India’s PM, is seen as a big step in regional cooperation.

The invite poses a dilemma for Sharif, who leads the conservative pro-business Pakistan Muslim League, as many in the country and elsewhere in the Muslim world see the 63-year-old Modi as a hardline Hindu nationalist who harbours sectarian prejudices.

British newspaper Guardian quoted Aziz Ahmed Khan, a retired diplomat who served as Pakistan’s high commissioner to Delhi, saying Modi had been “really very shrewd” with an invitation that the government will find it hard to respond to.

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