- POSTED: 21 May 2014 17:21
- UPDATED: 21 May 2014 17:56
Indian prime minister-elect Narendra Modi has invited Pakistan's premier Nawaz Sharif to his swearing-in ceremony next Monday, his party said, in a bold diplomatic statement that he intends to improve strained ties.
NEW DELHI: Indian prime minister-elect Narendra Modi has invited Pakistan's premier Nawaz Sharif to his swearing-in ceremony next Monday, his party said, in a bold diplomatic statement that he intends to improve strained ties.
Nirmala Sitharaman, spokeswoman for Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), told AFP Wednesday that all heads of government from the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation "have been given invitations to be present at Mr Modi's swearing in."
The move, yet to be confirmed by Pakistan or other members of the eight-nation grouping, signals that Modi is intent on tackling India's most troubled bilateral relationship at a time when Sharif is also keen on talks, analysts say.
"I think it is a very important gesture," said Manoj Joshi, a fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, a New Delhi-based think-tank.
"It definitely shows Modi's intentions to focus on immediate neighbours and it is a realistic signal; realism in the sense that unless you have good relations with neighbours you can hardly focus beyond," he said.
Modi is to take the oath as prime minister next Monday, 10 days after a landslide win for the Hindu nationalist BJP which secured the first majority by a single party in 30 years.
The leader was expected to usher in a more muscular foreign policy, insisting on the campaign trail that other countries would respect India only if it showed strong political leadership.
A senior official from India's foreign ministry told AFP that it was examining a proposal to welcome foreign heads of governments next Monday, but said that invitations had not yet been sent.
Pakistani foreign ministry spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam also said that no invitation had been received.
"There is no invitation yet, they have announced in the media that they are inviting."
Sharif, who is himself a centre-right leader, has hailed Modi's "impressive victory" with many diplomats hoping the two men can engineer a thaw in ties between the nuclear-armed neighbours.
Sharif has cited his working relationship with Atal Bihari Vajpayee, India's last prime minister under the right-wing BJP, as a reason for optimism, according to diplomatic sources.
In 1999 during Sharif's second term in power, Vajpayee rode a bus to Lahore to sign a peace accord, raising the prospect of normalised ties.
Three months later, the countries embarked on the Kargil conflict in the Himalayan region of Kashmir.
India and Pakistan have fought three full fledged wars since independence in 1947 and bilateral ties broke down after attacks on Indian commercial hub Mumbai in 2008 in which 166 people were killed by Pakistani gunmen.
Relations have warmed slightly since under outgoing Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, but remain frosty amid mutual distrust and regular skirmishes on their disputed border in Kashmir.
Modi had warned during campaigning that talks could not be held with Pakistan until all violence stopped.
Key issues confronting the relationship remain the disputed Kashmir region, as well as Islamist militancy inside India which New Delhi frequently accuses Pakistan of backing.
While Pakistan's civilian leaders and business community are in favour of closer ties, many ordinary people revile Modi, who is tainted by communal riots in his home state of Gujarat 12 years ago that killed 1,000 people, mostly Muslims.
Pakistan's powerful army is also said by analysts to be wary of closer ties and and could act as a brake on any peace-making attempts by Sharif.