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Pakistan moves to break the ice, extends invite to Modi

LiveMint logoLiveMint 19-05-2014 Elizabeth Roche

New Delhi: Pakistan extended an invitation to India’s prime minister elect Narendra Modi to visit the country in a move aimed at reviving ties between the two countries that have fought four wars.

The invitation was confirmed by Pakistan’s high commissioner Abdul Basit on Monday. Official dialogue between the two countries has been at a standstill since January 2013.

The invite came during a telephone call from Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to Modi on Friday, the day the results of India’s just concluded polls were announced. The poll results showed that Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won 282 seats in the 543-member Lok Sabha—giving it simple majority on its own. Together with its coalition partners, the BJP-led bloc secured 336 seats.

India’s foreign ministry played down the import of the invite, claiming that it was routinely extended and did not imply that Modi would be travelling to Pakistan. The last Indian leader to visit Pakistan was Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 2004 during the deliberations of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation.

Modi is seen as a hardliner in Pakistan and the prime minister designate seemed to signal as much during the election campaign.

In an interview to Hindi daily Hindustan last in April, Modi said that India’s foreign policy “must be based on mutual respect, support and brotherhood. But our own self-interest must be paramount. We don’t want to be aggressive against anyone nor be faced with aggression. But just think, would it be possible to have a good relationship with any neighbouring country that encourages terrorism in India?”

Several countries that were critical of Modi for his alleged role in the 2002 riots in Gujarat under his chief ministership have, after the election results, revisited their positions. The US, which had refused him a visa in 2005, reversed the decision on Friday. US President Barack Obama and other world leaders telephoned Modi to congratulate him.

One of Modi’s advisers said that Modi’s foreign policy would be “more muscular” which is interpreted to mean a strong stance against terrorism. India believes Pakistan is guilty of fomenting Islamic militancy in Kashmir besides planning and executing bomb blasts across India. Key issues bedevilling ties include Kashmir and stalled trade. Bilateral ties have only slightly recovered from the setback suffered after the 2008 Mumbai attacks in which 166 people were killed by Pakistani gunmen.

According to Akshay Mathur, geo-economics Fellow at the Mumbai based Gateway House think-tank, “Modi will have to find creative ways to engage with Pakistan that enables the two countries to build bridges between businesses and communities, while remaining assertive on the border.”

In a press release issued by the Pakistan high commission on Monday, Basit said Sharif hoped “the decisive mandate received by the BJP would help push forward the agenda of peace for development.”

He said the Pakistan leadership was committed to “a result-oriented dialogue process” and hoped “comprehensive bilateral engagement would resume sooner than later,” the statement added.

With both Sharif and Modi enjoying a strong mandate, the hope in Pakistan is that a peace process stalled since last year could get fresh impetus. Sherry Rehman, a Pakistan opposition leader is of the view that if Modi’s “policies are driven by economy, then Pakistan would find it easier to do business with his India.”

Pakistani analyst Ayesha Siddiqua said that authorities in Pakistan recalled the “very good experience” with the previous BJP government headed by Vajpayee between 1998 and 2004 which saw attempts by India to normalise ties with Pakistan, although the countries also fought the Kargil war in this period. “The government here would be watching him (Modi) to assess his policies for the next six to 12 months,” Siddiqua said.

AFP contributed to this story

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