x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Can Modi reset India’s ties with Pakistan?

India and Pakistan are looking for a fresh start in relations, with Pakistani PM Nawaz Sharif agreeing to attend the innaguration of Indian PM-elect Narendra Modi.

Indian Prime Minister-Elect, Narendra Modi (R) addresses a special farewell session of Gujarat Assembly in Gandhinagar. AFP Photo
Indian Prime Minister-Elect, Narendra Modi (R) addresses a special farewell session of Gujarat Assembly in Gandhinagar. AFP Photo

NEW DELHI // Prime minister Nawaz Sharif will become the first Pakistani leader to attend the inauguration of an Indian premier when he travels to New Delhi for Narendra Modi’s swearing-in ceremony on Monday.

Mr Modi, who rode to victory on a wave of popular support in the recent election, invited the leaders of seven South Asian countries to his inauguration. Unexpectedly, the invitation included Pakistan, with which already strained bilateral relations have been particularly tense since the 2008 terrorist attacks on Mumbai by militants who were trained in Pakistan.

Last year, the two countries exchanged fire across the Line of Control in Kashmir, which is claimed by both Pakistan and India. The skirmishes hampered efforts by the former Indian government, under prime minister Manmohan Singh, to repair ties.

Mr Sharif last year invited Mr Singh to his own inauguration, but he declined the offer.

However, it is hoped that Mr Sharif’s upcoming visit will pave the way for improved diplomatic relations. “There will be a bilateral meeting on the sidelines between prime minister Nawaz Sharif and Mr Modi,” Mohyuddin Wani, Mr Sharif’s office’s joint secretary, told Reuters yesterday. “Mr Sharif will also be calling on the Indian president.”

Mr Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has traditionally taken a hardline stance against Pakistan — another reason that Mr Modi’s decision to invite Mr Sharif comes as a surprise.

“It’s very good news that Nawaz Sharif has accepted Mr Modi’s invitation,” Prakash Javadekar, a BJP spokesperson, said. “It will mark a new beginning in our ties.”

The news was cautiously welcomed by the BJP’s rivals.

“I hope that this will mark a new beginning in ties between our two countries,” Omar Abdullah, the chief minister of Jammu & Kashmir, said on Twitter. “The people of J & K will be watching closely.”

Srinath Raghavan, a senior fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, a think tank in New Delhi, called the invitation a good first step.

“The new government is just about coming in place. So this is a good way to become personally acquainted with all the leaders in the neighbourhood, including Mr Sharif. Only after that will they be able to start making assessments on foreign policy and so on,” Mr Raghavan said.

He pointed out that Mr Modi had not made any significant statements in the area of foreign policy during his campaign, preferring to focus on domestic concerns instead.

“I feel the BJP government will basically reiterate what they’ve been saying all along, which is that the Pakistan government should stop aiding terrorists, after which India will be willing to move forward in the dialogue process,” Mr Raghavan said.

“These are substantive issues, and it’ll take a little time to start working on them. But this is a good first move to make.”

ssubramanian@thenational.ae