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HindustanTimes Sun,21 Sep 2014

Sharif keen, Pak likely to take call on Modi's invitation today

Harinder Baweja and Imtiaz Ahmad, Hindustan Times  New Delhi/Islamabad, May 22, 2014
First Published: 10:12 IST(22/5/2014) | Last Updated: 14:47 IST(23/5/2014)

Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif is personally keen to attend Prime Minister-designate Narendra Modi’s swearing-in ceremony, highly placed sources in Islamabad indicated Thursday. “He has made up his mind but we have to go through a process of consultation,” a close aide of Sharif told HT on phone.

While the Pakistan foreign office confirmed the invitation had been received, no formal announcement has yet been made. The foreign office maintained late Thursday that the matter was still being considered. A final decision is likely on Friday. 

Sartaj Aziz, foreign and security adviser to Sharif, told HT that if there was a perceived delay in a formal announcement, it was only because the process of consultation was still on. Aziz was emphatic that there was ‘’no anxiety about Modi’’ and Pakistan was keen on taking the relationship with India forward.  “We don’t want to start our interaction through the media. That will not be productive. Let the relationship develop,’’ he told HT.

Two weeks ago, Aziz had told this paper in an interview that Pakistan was ready to do business with Modi and underscored the fact that ties between the neighbours had seen real progress when Sharif and the BJP’s AB Vajpayee were at the helm.

Sharif, too, is a votary of Indo-Pak friendship. Soon after winning a clear mandate last year, he had in an interview to this paper said, “Let me tell you — and through you, the citizens of India — that we want friendship with India and will not allow any more Kargils and Mumbai-like terror attacks. Terrorism can only hurt both India and Pakistan.’’

In Islamabad, reports emerged of Sharif’s party, the Pakistan Muslim League (N), being split on whether he should accept the invitation or not. Officials at the foreign office in Islamabad also privately confirmed that an input from the army was expected following which a statement would be made. The army is usually consulted when a Pakistani dignitary plans a trip to India. “If Sharif doesn’t make it, it means the military has prevailed,” said a source.

However, Regional Peace Institute, a Pakistan-based think-tank that works for peace in the South Asian region, said Sharif should attend Modi’s swearing-in. It said in a statement that Pakistan should “attempt to leave behind the BJP leader’s election-time rhetoric and move on with opening a new chapter”.

Tension has marked civil-military relations in Pakistan of late, particularly over the banning of news channel Geo TV. Part of the Jang Media Group, the country’s largest media house, it has accused the ISI of being behind the attack on one of its anchors, Hamid Mir. While the army has called for a ban on Geo, the Sharif government has been vocal in its support of press freedom.

In Delhi, South Block is keenly watching the civil-military equation and is hopeful Sharif will make it to Monday’s swearing-in. “We are given to understand Sharif is considering the invite and consultations are on for arriving at a decision. We were in touch with them informally and hope the Pakistan Prime Minister decides to come,” a source at the ministry of external affairs said.

“If Sharif comes, there has to some serious discussion and Modi will be expected to spell out his vision on Pakistan. Sharif also cannot go back empty-handed,” said MK Bhadrakumar, a career diplomat who has dealt extensively with India-Pakistan ties.

(Inputs from Jayanth Jacob)


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