New Delhi: Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) is considering inviting leaders of South Asian countries, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, to his oath-taking ceremony as prime minister.
Khan is expected to take oath on 11 August and should Modi accept the invite, it could open the doors for normalization of ties between the two countries.
“The core committee of Tehreek-i-Insaf is considering inviting the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) heads, including Mr Modi, and a decision on this is expected shortly,” an unidentified leader of Khan’s party was quoted as saying by Press Trust of India. The leader cited above also termed Modi’s telephone call to Khan on Monday following his victory in the polls as a welcome sign to start a new chapter in bilateral ties.
The Indian foreign ministry late Monday said Modi had spoken to Khan and “reiterated his vision of peace and development in the entire neighbourhood”. People familiar with the development on the Indian side said Khan’s party had “not yet” issued an invitation to Modi when asked if this had been discussed between the two in their telephone conversation on Monday.
A spokesperson for Khan’s party, Fawad Chaudhry, also did not rule out inviting Modi to the swearing-in ceremony. “A decision about it will be taken by the party in consultation with the foreign ministry in coming days,” he said.
In a speech on 26 July, Khan had said that if “you (India) take one step forward we will take two steps forward” to improve relations.
If Khan invites all Saarc heads of state for his swearing-in, he will be taking a leaf out of Modi’s book. The Indian prime minister had in 2014 invited Saarc heads of state or governments to his inauguration in New Delhi. Then Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif had attended Modi’s swearing-in ceremony. The two sides had subsequently tried to open talks that have been frozen since 2013 but the attempt failed with Pakistan insisting on engaging Kashmiri separatists ahead of talks with Indian officials. Subsequent efforts to resume the dialogue also ran aground.
The prospects for engagement looked up when Modi met Sharif on the sidelines of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Paris in November 2015. This was followed by a meeting of the national security advisors of the two countries in Bangkok and Modi himself making a surprise stop over in Pakistan in December 2015 on his way from a visit to Russia. But this effort to normalise ties too failed when terrorists struck the Pathankot air force station in January 2016 within days of Modi’s visit.
The sentencing of alleged Indian spy Kulbhushan Jadhav to death by a Pakistani military court in April last year and frequent violations of a 2003 ceasefire agreement along the Line of Control, resulting in civilian casualties, has further soured relations between the neighbours.