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Olive branch: Modi invites Nawaz to inauguration

22 May, 2014

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NEW DELHI: Indian prime minister-designate Narendra Modi on Wednesday invited the leaders of Pakistan and other neighbours to his inauguration next week in an unprecedented move, signalling his aspirations to be a regional leader.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was on the guest list of leaders from the eight-member regional grouping invited to attend Modi's swearing next Monday, government and members of his Bharatiya Janata Party said.

"India's Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh writes to SAARC counterparts inviting their leaders to attend swearing-in ceremony on 26th May," Foreign Ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin wrote on social media website Twitter.

If the Pakistani prime minister were to attend the planned ceremony in the forecourt of the presidential mansion, the event would be a first in the history of the nuclear-armed rivals, who have fought three wars since independence in 1947. It was not immediately clear if Nawaz would accept. Analysts said the visit would be politically difficult.

Pakistan's Foreign Office in Islamabad confirmed that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had received the invitation from the Indian government to attend the oath taking ceremony of Narendra Modi, being held on May 26.

The invitation was received through the Indian High Commission in Islamabad.

However, the spokesperson said no decision about attending the ceremony by the prime minister had been made yet. Even if Nawaz cannot come, the new administration in New Delhi is signalling its wish to re-engage with the neighbour, analysts said.

The victorious BJP has long advocated a tough stance on Pakistan and Modi is seen as an uncompromising hardliner on issues of national security. But his huge election victory also gives him the political capital to reach out to difficult neighbours, including Pakistan, in a way his predecessor Manmohan Singh could not, weakened by graft scandals and public discontent at home.

After his own election last year, Nawaz's administration had also suggested that the Indian prime minister be invited to attend the ceremony, but Singh declined. Nawaz may not attend the ceremony but send a representative instead, Indian television channel CNN-IBN said, citing unnamed sources.

End.

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