DELHI/ISLAMABAD: After three days of ‘will he, won’t he’ speculation, the Pakistan government confirmed on Saturday Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had â€” in the face of opposition from hardliners at home â€” accepted India’s PM-designate Narendra Modi’s unanticipated invitation to Saarc heads of government to attend his swearing-in on Monday.
Sharif’s confirmation, which comes a day after the terror attack on India’s consulate in Herat, Afghanistan, and Lashkar boss Hafiz Saeed’s warning against coming to New Delhi, sets the stage for an unprecedented visit and escalated the inaugural ceremony into a star-studded international show of strength for Modi even before his formal takeover.
It was an open secret, right from the beginning, that Sharif wanted to make the trip, and was heartily supported by his foreign office, his daughter and brother, and political colleagues on both sides of the aisle. But he had to weather a quiet storm within the military-intelligence establishment, which is what triggered the uncertainty over whether he would finally say yes.
The Pakistan army, which largely calls the shots on India, was reportedly not particularly enthusiastic. The new army chief Raheel Sharief belongs to the mould of the conservative general who is instinctively antipathetic to India. Also, Sharif and Sharief have not seen eye-to-eye on a number of issues.
Pakistan is expecting a substantive agenda for talks with Modi while India is pitching for a more “getting to know each other” kind of meeting. The bilateral, scheduled for a brief 30 minutes on Tuesday, can hardly be expected to cover the gamut of issues. But Pakistan, which will include (besides Sharif) foreign policy adviser Sartaj Aziz and party leader Tariq Fatemi, is likely to ask for the resumption of composite dialogue which was disrupted after the 26/11 attacks. The dialogue has long outlived its usefulness but nobody has yet found a replacement for it.
India, for its part, will be watching to see if Sharif meets the separatist Hurriyat group, which has been a regular feature in every Pak leader’s visit. There is no formal word yet of such a meeting taking place.