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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2522

Sharif to travel to Delhi for Modi oath, and Mini-Meet

By Malladi Rama Rao in New Delhi
New Delhi, 25 May, (Asiantribune.com):

After suspense filled two days, the word has come from Islamabad that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif would join his SARRC counterparts at Narendra Modi’s oath taking as India’s 15th Prime Minister on Monday, May 26, evening.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was immensely relieved by the announcement, and expressed its delight that a routine event has become a major celebration of festival of democracy in South Asia.

“This is good news”, said Prakash Javadekar, BJP spokesman, who is former journalist from Pune, the City of Peshwas in Maharashtra. “This is a delightful piece of news (that Pakistan Prime Minister has accepted Narendra Modi's invitation)”, he said and hoped the Monday get together would mark “the beginning of a new relationship”.

Like the invitation to President Rajapaksa, the invitation to Prime Minister Sharif has invited criticism. While it was Tamil Nadu parties that had taken to grandstanding in the case of visitor from Colombo, it was the Congress that had ticked off the BJP mascot for the welcome to Sharif.

The grand old party has scores to settle with Modi who had criticised the outgoing Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for talking to Sharif in New York and hosting chicken biryani dinner (last year) without resolving the terrorism issue.

So, taking a dig at Modi and BJP, Congress senior and Information Minister in the outgoing cabinet, Manish Tewari would remember their own dictum that terror and talks cannot go together.

Prime Minister Sharif has finalised a two-day visit to Delhi; it will be his first to the Indian capital. Accompanied by a five –member delegation, he will have a bilateral meeting a day after Modi assumes the leadership mantle of India.

When Sharif took over the reins of Pakistan last June for the third time, he had invited Manmohan Singh, but he could not make the visit. Singh also planned a visit to his native village near Lahore but that plan too did not materialize under domestic compulsions.

India-Pak relations have nosedived after the 2008 attacks on Mumbai by Lashkar-e-Toiba, which has its headquarters near Lahore. And the delays in Pakistan in bringing to book the accused in the case have not helped matters either.

Though both sides are cautioning against great expectations from Modi-Sharif talks, it may be possible for the two leaders to give a push for bilateral engagement and thus to lower the diplomatic temperature between the two nuclear neighbours.

Just as it was not easy for Modi to bring about a paradigm shift in the India discourse, it was not easy for Sharif to accept the invitation. More so as Modi’s image is of a hardline Hindu nationalist. He had to take all stakeholders on board, and it took some time, and the media turned the delay to whip up one –day cricket frenzy. Sharif’s brother, Shahabad’s meeting with the military leadership appears to have cleared the decks for the visit.

Both Modi and Sharif are keen on giving a boost to trade relations as a part of their overall plans to fight poverty. Both have an ambitious domestic economic agenda. This convergence can make the “Mini Modi-Sharif Meet” more than a routine photo –ops, and may even lead to a turnaround in India-Pak relations.

“I'm not understating the importance of the visit (of Sharif),” Nirmala Sitharaman, also a BJP spokesperson, said adding that she does not endorse “triumphalism that some are expressing that this visit is some breakthrough”.

Apparently in an effort to lower expectations, she said the Modi-Sharif meeting should be seen “as a courtesy gesture to a visiting leader”, and “it cannot be called bilateral talks or any kind of talks in the diplomatic sense because such talks require much preparation and careful deliberation. There is no point-by-point agenda for the meeting”.

Nevertheless, the New York Times expects a thaw in India-Pak relations. The mutual gesture (invitation and its acceptance) may mark a turning point in the relations between the two countries, which have been particularly frosty since early 2013, according to the American daily. It noted that Modi’s invitation has sent a jolt through Indian domestic politics, sending the message that he would act independently on foreign policy, not allowing decisions to be swayed by the interests of the country’s regional heavyweights.

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Afghan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Bhutan Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay, Nepal Prime Minister Sushil Koirala, Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom, and Mauritius Premier are the other invitees to Modi oath taking.

Bangladesh will be represented by Parliament Speaker Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury as Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is away in Japan on a state visit.

- Asian Tribune -

Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif
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