ISLAMABAD - Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has finally decided to attend the swearing-in ceremony of Indian PM-designate Narendra Modi in New Delhi on Monday evening, after most of his close aides as well as people in larger circles of society urged him to avail this opportunity to meet his Indian counterpart for improvement in bilateral ties.
The decision, confirmed by PM House spokesperson on Saturday, was reached after hectic consultations with party’s inner core, Foreign Office and input from leadership of various parliamentary parties, a source in Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz informed The Nation.
Meanwhile, in consultation with Indian government the Foreign Office has finalised the schedule of Premier Nawaz’ stay in New Delhi. FO spokeswoman Tasneem Aslam said the PM will leave for New Delhi Monday morning and attend the oath-taking of incoming Indian PM the same evening.
Nawaz Sharif would also hold meeting with Indian President Parnab Mukherjee on Monday while the bilateral meeting with new Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be held on Tuesday morning, while in the afternoon PM Nawaz would fly back, she added. Adviser to the PM on National Security and Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz, Special Assistant to PM on Foreign Affairs Tariq Fatemi and Foreign Secretary will accompany the Premier.
Political and diplomatic sources said that the event would provide a great opportunity to both the countries to devise a strategy to move forward and put back on track the stalled composite dialogue between the two nuclear neighbours and also level ground for other avenues of cooperation.
Sources in PML-N said that all stakeholders were taken into confidence before planning the visit of the PM and that was the reason it took more time than expected. They said that Foreign Office was in constant touch with the Pakistan High Commissioner in New Delhi and it also has taken time in finalising and making the schedule of the visit ‘meaningful’.
To a question party sources confirmed that the party leaders, engaged in consultation on the subject, were initially divided as some very important cabinet members were of the view that prime minister should send some of his representative in the ceremony while others advised that the Premier should himself go there. But finally all of them agreed that Nawaz should attend the ceremony.
A parliamentary source said that the delay in decision was also caused because the PM wanted to have input of opposition parties and other stakeholders on the issue and when positive response came from all sides, the government finally announced the decision.
When asked, a senior party leader, who preferred not to be named, said that the meeting of Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif with Chief of Army Staff in Lahore on Friday evening was just a coincidence and it has no bearing on the Premier’s decision to attend the ceremony. Army and other stakeholders’ input was sought much earlier, he smilingly added. Some other informed sources said that the delay was mainly caused because much time was consumed in finalising the nitty-gritty of the visit with Indian authorities.
Political and diplomatic analysts said that though the event would be ceremonious in nature, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif wanted to make it meaningful and that was the reason a one-on-one meeting with Modi was finalised a day after his swearing-in ceremony on Tuesday wherein both sides would take a glance on all the contentious issues between the two neighbours and would at least come up with some ‘formal’ announcement.
These analysts said that at maximum one could expect the resumption of the composite dialogue between the two sides stalled since ‘Bombay attacks’ or at least the two sides would come up with some sort of announcement for an earlier meeting of the officials of both the countries to do spade work for reopening of composite dialogue.
Prime Minister Nawaz is among the leaders of member states of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) Modi has invited on his swearing-in ceremony. It is the first time in Indian history that leaders from neighbouring countries have been invited to the swearing-in of an incoming prime minister.
Other dignitaries who are attending the ceremony include Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai, Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Bhutanese Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay, Nepalese PM Sushil Koirala, Bangladesh Parliament Speaker Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury – all Saarc countries. Mauritius PM Navinchandra Ramgoolam is also attending the event. Modi, who is to be sworn-in in the forecourt of Rashtrapati Bhavan on Monday evening, would host a banquet for all the dignitaries the same night.
Agencies add: This will be PM Sharif’s first-ever official visit to India as the head of the government. He has never paid a visit there even during his previous two tenures as prime minister.