The conundrum is finally solved - Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will be attending the oath-taking ceremony of India's PM-elect Narendra Modi on May 26.
Sharif took this decision after a series of consultations with his close aides. This was not an issue of national interest or sovereignty of the country. It was a minor issue for any other country. But Sharif and his aides made it a mountain out of a molehill.
Look at our old ally, the US. We can really learn from our 'buddy' who handled the same issue brilliantly that we turned into a spectacle for rest of the world. As the invitation landed the White House, the US welcomed hopes of better ties between India and Pakistan as Modi had invited Sharif to his swearing-in, adding that the US will not attend the ceremony.
Modi's invitation to Sharif was like a standard beginning move of chess - E4 and its best answer that is given within seconds by an average chess player is E5 or D5. Sharif's decision of accepting the invitation is E5. It would have been D5 if the decision would have been otherwise. However, it would have been a wise decision - whether E5 or D5 - if the counter move would have been played within seconds. [Time is an important factor in the game of chess. One can lose a game on the basis of time.]
Modi's invitation to Sharif was a usual piece of news but Sharif's inability to respond to it promptly in a decisive way turned it into a major story. A serious media organisation like BBC Urdu had to discuss it as the main issue in its daily news and analysis program Sairbeen.
There are two ostensible reasons behind the delay; stressed civil-military relations and the pressure of deeply anti-India rightwing as well as the non-state actors. Maulana Samiul Haq, an emissary and godfather of Taliban on whom the Sharif-led government is banking too much for brokering a peace deal with TTP, has been saying here and there that Modi's hands are stained with the blood of thousands of innocent Muslims.
Although there is no explicit warning or threat, yet Sharif fears a backlash from the Taliban if he accepts Modi's invitation.
"If Nawaz Sharif goes to India, the generals at GHQ will talk behind his back saying: 'Look, he is attending Modi's oath-taking ceremony but he could not utter two words in support of ISI when Geo was maligning us. The army is likely to raise eyebrows," comments Ayaz Amir, a columnist and politician.
When asked if it was such a gigantic issue for which the cabinet, army and ISI had to be consulted, Ayaz said, "It never happens in any country. The decision could have been made on the first day. A representative should have been nominated. We have made a mockery of ourselves by making it such a colossal issue."
Modi spat venom against Pakistan and Muslims in his election campaign. On the other hand, Sharif talked of good relations with India in his election campaign.
In this backdrop, the rightwing wants Sharif to boycott Modi's swearing-in ceremony. The rightwing is also reminding us that the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh did not attend Nawaz Sharif's oath-taking ceremony last year, therefore, Sharif should pay India in the same coin.
The fact is that Pakistan did not send any formal invitation to Singh to attend Sharif's swearing-in. Modi's invitation is a formal one and it has been sent to all the heads of the state and the heads of the government of the Saarc countries. We must learn a universal rule of diplomacy - there are no permanent enemies and friends in politics.
Renowned columnist and writer Irfan Hussain hailed Sharif's decision of accepting Modi's invitation saying, "Given that there is a widespread perception that Nawaz Sharif is not free to act in Pakistan's relations with India without army approval, it is important for him to go to Delhi to attend Modi's swearing-in. One of the main planks in his election campaign was related to normalising ties with our neighbour, but in one year, he has been unable to open up Indo-Pak trade. Had he not gone when all other Saarc leaders had accepted the invitation, it would have signalled that the army had prevailed yet again," Hussain said.
Hussain said that it is difficult to see how Sharif could have improved ties while snubbing a newly elected and very popular Indian prime minister.
"And, even though he will be held on a tight leash by the generals, he needs to carve out as much space as he can. This is an opportunity he could not have ignored."
-Mohammad Shehzad is a freelance journalist/writer based in Islamabad.