India on Wednesday invited the leaders of rival Pakistan and other South Asian nations to the prime minister’s inauguration, signaling what could be a first step in improving ties with its neighbors.
Indian Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh on Wednesday sent the invitations to her counterparts in the eight-member South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation for the leaders to attend the inaugural scheduled for Monday.
It is the first time that India has invited leaders from its neighbors to attend the ceremony. Indian Ministry of External Affairs spokesman Syed Akbaruddin said the ministry was awaiting responses.
The decision, among the first taken by Indian prime minister-elect Narendra Modi, could signal an intent to improve ties with Pakistan. The hostility between the two South Asian neighbors dates to their independence from Britain in 1947. They have fought three wars, two of them over the Himalayan region of Kashmir, which both claim as their own.
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was among the first leaders to call Modi to congratulate him and he also invited Modi to visit Pakistan.
The Pakistani Foreign Office said it would decide yesterday whether the Pakistani leader would attend the inauguration.
“The invitation was received yesterday [Wednesday],” a foreign office spokeswoman said yesterday. “A decision whether the prime minister would attend will be taken some time today.”
Relations between India and Pakistan were frozen after an attack on Mumbai in 2008 in which Pakistani terrorists killed 166 people. A mild thaw since then has helped trade and people-to-people links, but not much progress has been made to restore bilateral ties to normalcy.