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Bold NaMo invites all SAARC heads

Thursday, 22 May 2014 | PNS | New Delhi

In a major step aimed at reaching out to India’s neighbours, Prime Minister-designate Narendra Modi has invited leaders of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh besides other SAARC countries for his oath-taking ceremony on May 26. 

This is the first time an incoming Prime Minister has invited foreign leaders for the ceremony, indicating that Modi wants to break new ground in fostering relations with all the neighbours.

During the UPA Government’s ten-year rule, relations with many countries were far from good. Modi clearly wants to change the strained environment and has wasted no time in taking the first step in that direction.

While Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa have reportedly confirmed their  attendance, indications were that Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will not come. Instead, Pakistani President Mamnoon Hussain is likely to represent his country.

Other SAARC nations include Bhutan, Maldives and Nepal and their response to the Indian invitation is awaited. India has invited Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Bhutan Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay, Nepal Prime Minister Sushil Koirala and Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom.

The invitation to all the countries, the first-ever by an Indian Prime Minister, was extended by Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh, officials said here on Wednesday. Incidentally, the Sharif administration had also invited the Indian Prime Minister for his oath-taking ceremony last year. However, Manmohan Singh declined to attend it.

“The letters to the SAARC heads are being sent for the swearing-in ceremony scheduled for May 26 (Monday),” official sources said. Asked if Sharif would attend the ceremony, Pakistani diplomatic sources said the invitation had not yet reached Islamabad and hence they could not react immediately.

Asked if the invitation to Sharif was start of a better relationship with Pakistan, External Affairs Ministry spokesperson said: “Let’s take one step at a time. At this stage the invitations have gone. Let’s take responses on this and we will take it from there rather than jump to conclusions on the basis of our first step. This is the first step we have taken to invite leaders of all SAARC member states, that includes Pakistan.”

Jammu & Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah and his political rival Mehbooba Mufti of PDP welcomed Modi’s invitation to Sharif and hoped it will mark the beginning of sustained talks with Pakistan.

The BJP said Modi’s desire to invite the heads of Government of all SAARC countries to his swearing-in was a first step towards improving ties with India’s neighbours.

The party also said the installation of a new Government in the world’s largest democracy through peaceful transfer of power is also an occasion to showcase the strength of democracy.

“This is a big occasion for India’s democracy that the country’s elections have concluded peacefully and the world’s largest democracy sees such a change. Such a peaceful change in the world’s largest democracy is an occasion to showcase to the whole world the strength of democracy,” BJP leader Arun Jaitley said.

He said it is Modi Government’s intention to maintain good ties with its neighbours and this is the first indication of that intention. He said the decision to invite neighbours to the swearing-in is also an indication that “we care for them and want to maintain relations with them”.

The Congress said it was the new Government’s prerogative to invite SAARC Heads of State and Government. “There is no question of not welcoming.... It is the Prime Minister’s prerogative to call any foreign dignitary. We are certainly not here to interfere. It is part of governance,” party spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi told reporters. He was asked whether the Congress welcomed the invitation by India to SAARC leaders to attend Modi’s swearing-in ceremony.

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