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Narendra Modi's Swearing-in: Pak Hails Invite As 'Bold Move', Sharif May Attend, Say Sources
May 22, 2014, 9:23 am

Pakistan has, in its first official response, hailed Narendra Modi's invitation to South Asian leaders, including its prime minister Nawaz Sharif, as a "bold move." Mr Modi has invited the neighbours to attend his oath ceremony as Prime Minister of India on Monday, May 26.

Tariq Azim, media advisor to Mr Sharif's party the PML(N) said, "It's a bold and unexpected move," and added that Nawaz Sharif "does not share the anxiety that is felt by some quarters here in Pakistan because he has got some very fond memories of the previous BJP Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee coming to Lahore and he hopes that this anxiety about Modi and his past will fade away."

While there is no official word yet from Pakistan on whether Mr Sharif will attend Monday's ceremony, sources in Pakistan have suggested that there is the possibility that he might attend.

After his own election last year, Mr Sharif's administration had also suggested that the Indian PM be invited to attend his inauguration ceremony, but Dr Manmohan Singh had declined.

Mr Modi's invitation to leaders of the SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) is being seen as a bold step to embark on a policy of regional engagement.

Afghanistan's president Hamid Karzai has confirmed he will attend as has Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Maldives President Abdulla Yameen could attend too, say sources.

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is traveling to Japan but she is likely to send the country's Speaker.

Senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley, tipped to be an important minister in the Modi cabinet said, "This is to signal to our neighbours that the new government wants direct and peaceful relations.

Mr Modi's move signals a big shift in his party, the BJP's position on Pakistan.  While campaigning for the general election, Mr Modi attacked the Congress-led UPA government for what he called a "stagnated" and "weak" foreign policy. "The heads of our soldiers are cut but then their Prime Minister is fed chicken biryani," he said in a speech, referring to the beheading of an Indian jawan at the border last year.  

Political leaders in Kashmir have welcomed the move. Mehbooba Mufti of the People's Democratic Party said, "It's good omen to invite the Pakistani PM on Modi's swearing-in ceremony."

"Excellent move by @narendramodi to invite SAARC leaders, especially Pak PM for his swearing in. Hope this is beginning of sustained talks (sic)," Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah tweeted.

Minutes later he again posted, "At the same time I can't help wonder what BJP would have said if a PM designate Rahul Gandhi had done the same thing."

But the BJP's southern ally MDMK's Vaiko has opposed the participation of the Sri Lanka President. The MDMK and many other Tamil political parties allege that human rights violations against Tamils and civilian casualties in Lanka peaked during the last leg of the war against LTTE with Mr Rajapaksa in charge.

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