Mian Sharif Still in a Bind Over Modi’s Invite
Pressure from hardliners has put Pak administration on back foot and delayed the final decision on Sharif attending Modi’s swearing-in ceremony
Hours after indicating on Thursday that Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif could attend the swearing-in ceremony of his counterpart Narendra Modi, apparent pressure from hardliners forced the Islamabad administration on the back foot and delayed the final decision on the matter to another day.
Pakistan government is likely to decide on Sharif ’s participation on Friday, officials from the neighbouring country told ET.
Pakistan’s powerful military es- tablishment will have the final say on the issue, said the officials, who did not wish to be named. Although Sharif is holding consultations with both civilian and military leaders, the Pakistan army has long dictated the country’s India policy. Pakistan Foreign Office spokesperson Tasnim Aslam said in Islamabad that a formal invitation had been received but added that no decision had yet been taken on Sharif ’s participation in Modi’s swearing-in ceremony scheduled for Monday.
Aslam said that it was a normal practice to nominate or depute someone on behalf of the prime minister, indicating that Sharif might send an emissary in his place. Sharif could depute Foreign and National Security Adviser Sartaz Aziz, a foreign affairs expert said. Pakistan hopes that the new Indian government will realise the importance of resolving bilateral issues, Aslam said, adding, “Pakistan also hopes uninterrupted and uninterruptible dialogue between the two countries for peace and development in South Asia.” The ruling Pakistan Muslim League and sections of the establishment appear to be at odds with Sharif ’s proposed visit. Members of Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz ( PML-N) said the prime minister wanted to normalise ties with India to promote commercial and business activities. Earlier in the day, PML-N spokesperson Siddiqul Farooq told ET from Pakistan, “Mr Nawaz Sharif may attend the event to reciprocate the gesture shown by the incoming government of India. If the PM visits Delhi he will tell Mr Modi to assure him of his cooperation to improve ties.” Pakistani officials hinted that the invitation from India was unexpected and had left Sharif in a bind. “If Sharif skips the invitation it will send a negative message to India and the world but the acceptance may draw ire from the hardliners and hawks,” said a Pakistani official. On Wednesday, Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh had invited all seven SAARC leaders to attend the swearing-in at the behest of the PM designate. Besides Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai,
Pakistan is likely to decide on Sharif’s participation on Friday
Bhutanese Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay, Nepal Prime Minister Sushil Koirala and Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom are expected to attend the ceremony. Mauritius Prime Minister Navin Ramgoolam, who is of Indian origin, is also expected to attend the event. Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina, however, will be in Japan on an official visit and will depute Parliament Speaker Shirin Chowdhury for attending the ceremony. Modi will hold maiden bilateral meetings with all visiting leaders on Tuesday, officials told ET.