ISLAMABAD: In a significant development, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has decided to attend the swearing-in ceremony of India's new Prime Minister Narendra Modi , a foreign office official confirmed on Saturday.
Nawaz is among the leaders of South Asian countries invited to attend the oath-taking ceremony to be held in New Delhi on May 26.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader on May 21, in a bold move, invited Nawaz to his swearing-in ceremony. Modi is to take the oath as prime minister 10 days after a landslide win for the Hindu nationalist BJP which secured the first majority by a single party in 30 years.
This is the first time in the history of India that a Pakistani prime minister has been invited to the oath-taking ceremony of an Indian premier.
The decision to accept India's unprecedented invitation was taken after consultations with all the stakeholders, said the foreign office official.
A close aide of the prime minister told The Express Tribune that there was a consensus that Nawaz should attend the ceremony.
On May 22, The Express Tribune had learnt that Nawaz was likely to travel to New Delhi to attend the swearing-in ceremony, even though Foreign Office spokesperson Tasnim Aslam said that a decision had not been made at that point.
Also, on May 23, a senior official, who asked to remain anonymous, told The Express Tribune that a bilateral meeting between Nawaz and Modi has already been fixed if “our prime minister decides to visit.”
Pakistan's foreign ministry confirmed today (Saturday) that Nawaz will hold bilateral talks with Modi on the morning of May 27 and will also meet Indian President Pranab Mukherjee.
This latest gesture is considered significant considering anti-Pakistan rhetoric by Modi during his election campaign.
"It's very good news that Nawaz Sharif has accepted Mr Modi's invitation," BJP spokesperson Prakash Javadekar told reporters in New Delhi. "It will mark a new beginning in our ties."
Modi's invitation has inspired hopes that the change in government will lead to improved relations between the two countries.
The swearing-in ceremony, to be held at the forecourt of the historic Rashtrapati Bhavan, is likely to be attended by as many as 3,000 guests. Modi will be sworn in as the 15th Prime Minister of India by President Mukherjee.
Talat Masood, a political analyst and retired Pakistani general, said Nawaz had the backing of the nation's powerful army.
"I think the army is backing (his decision to attend) otherwise he would not go. He does not go against the advice of the army," he told AFP.
Either way, "Pakistan conveyed a positive gesture to India", said the chairman of Jamiat-e-Ulema-Islami Fazl (JUI-F), an ally of Nawaz's government.
"The decision to attend... is a welcome sign," said Maulana Fazlur Rehman. He added that close ties with India "may help resolve the Kashmir issue."
Omar Abdullah, the chief minister of Indian-held Kashmir, echoed similar sentiments.
He said on Twitter:
Very glad to hear Pak PM has accepted invite, shows that he can prevail over forces inimical to good relations with India. 1/2— Omar Abdullah (@OmarAbdullah) May 24, 2014
I hope that this will mark a new beginning in ties between our two countries. The people of J&K will be watching closely. 2/2— Omar Abdullah (@OmarAbdullah) May 24, 2014