Mixing nostalgia with diplomacy, the Nawaz Sharif government in Pakistan has made Prime Minister Manmohan Singh what it hopes is an offer he won’t be able to turn down — an invitation to visit not just the country but the village where he was born and his old school as well.
In the first high-level interaction between the two sides after the regime change in Islamabad, Sharif’s advisor on national security and foreign affairs, Sartaj Aziz, during his meeting with external affairs minister Salman Khurshid in Brunei last Tuesday, pressed for the “much- needed, much-awaited” visit, sources said.
"Pakistan insisted the PM's visit is long overdue and suggested Singh could find reasons, such as visiting his birth place, for making the trip," said a senior official.
Singh was born in Gah village in Chakwal district of what is now Punjab province in Pakistan on September 26, 1932. He attended a local primary school.
The underlying message in Sharif's reach-out seems to be his eagerness to pick up the threads of the peace process he was pursuing with India in 1999, when he lost power in a military coup. He conveyed as much after his victory in the May elections, and when his special envoy Shaharyar M Khan called on Singh in New Delhi on Friday.
Though New Delhi has "reciprocated in equal measure" Sharif's message of improving ties, domestic politics ahead of general elections next year weighs heavier on it and it is looking for outcomes that would warrant a visit by the PM. "Progress on the 26/11 Mumbai attacks is an imperative and the PM himself has spoken of suitable outcomes and visiting Pakistan at the opportune time," the sources said.
"(Pakistan's) message is earnest. But there is a long way to go," said one official.
Though Singh is yet to visit Pakistan, he is seen there as a leader keen on improving relations. And Gah has always had a special place in India-Pakistan ties. In 2004, the year Singh became PM, the Pakistan government declared it a model village in his honour. A local school was also named after him.
Last year, The Energy Resources Institute brought solar power to Gah, benefitting 54 families there.
The last Congress prime minister to visit Pakistan was Rajiv Gandhi in 1988.