Pakistan continued to keep India guessing on the proposed visit of its prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, with reports suggesting a rift between him and the army chief, General Raheel Sharif, over the invitation to attend Narendra Modi’s swearing-in ceremony.
Sharif is keen on making a new beginning with the next government in Delhi. But sources said Friday that though the foreign office has urged him not to miss this opportunity of taking the relationship forward, the all-powerful army has still not given the go-ahead. “The army wants a clear roadmap for talks and not a cosmetic handshake meeting with Modi,” said a source requesting anonymity.
Sharif is still trying to find a way to make it to Delhi for Monday’s ceremony but his job has been made all the more difficult by statements from Lashkar-e-Taiba founder and 26/11 mastermind Hafiz Saeed. Video footage aired by local media shows him saying, “If you (Sharif) visit India to attend Modi’s swearing-in, what will you tell the Kashmiris?”
Sharif is also facing pressure from another corner — his cabinet colleagues. There is a division within the Pakistan cabinet on whether he should accept Modi’s invitation. While his adviser on foreign affairs Sartaj Aziz has told him to go for it, others like interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan have advised caution.
Chaudhry Nisar is believed to have told Sharif that with the tussle between the military high command and the Jang media group at a critical juncture, visiting India “would give all the wrong signals”.
Critics of the Jang group — which owns the banned Geo TV, whose anchor Hamid Mir has openly blamed the ISI for an attack on his life — accuse the media house as well as the Sharif government of being pro-India.
In Delhi, officials in the ministry of external affairs said they were still waiting for a confirmation from Pakistan, though some conceded the 48-hour delay indicated all was not well.
“This is an opportunity for the Pakistan PM to tilt the scales in his favour and tell the army who the boss is,” said one official.
Ousted in a bloodless coup by Pervez Musharraf in 1999, Sharif is treading cautiously. His final decision will, to a large extent, determine the immediate future of the India-Pakistan relationship.