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Sharif hints at visit, Pak for bilateral meet

Modi will hold dialogue with SAARC heads May 27

After consulting his close aides, allies and local Kashmiri leaders for hours, Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif Thursday signalled acceptance of the invitation from India’s Prime Minister-designate Narendra Modi to visit New Delhi when he takes the oath of office on May 26.“The Prime Minister has accepted the invitation. His travel details will be finalised later,” a Pakistan foreign ministry official said late on Thursday. He said the Prime Minister was hopeful that talks between both countries will resume soon, as cordial ties “are necessary for peace in the region”.

Mr Sharif, he said, was optimistic that anti-Pakistan sentiments will be left behind and discussions would be held with a purpose of improving bilateral relations.However, till late Thursday night, India’s external affairs ministry had not got any official word from the Pakistan government on the visit. Sources said South Block was waiting to hear from Islamabad on Mr Sharif’s decision, having waited the entire day in suspense. It is learnt the Pakistan foreign ministry might make an announcement on Friday morning.

There was speculation in Delhi all through Thursday that Pakistan’s powerful military establishment had reservations about Mr Sharif travelling to India on Mr Modi’s invitation.MEA sources said in New Delhi that besides the Saarc leaders, Mauritius PM Navin Ramgoolam has also been invited, and will attend the oath-taking ceremony.Besides attending the swearing-in ceremony in the forecourt of Rashtrapati Bhavan, the Saarc leaders will also be attending an official dinner in New Delhi Monday night. On Tuesday, bilateral meetings of the visiting leaders are expected with the new Indian leadership at Hyderabad House in New Delhi. If Mr Sharif comes, this will be the first face-to-face meeting between Mr Modi and the Pakistan PM.

Earlier, Pakistan foreign office spokesperson Tasnim Aslam said Islamabad expected a “meaningful dialogue” with India after Mr Modi becomes PM.She also said if Mr Sharif did not travel to New Delhi, a representative would be nominated, adding that this was a “normal practice”, and there would be no breach of protocol.Ms Aslam said Pakistan will bring all outstanding issues with India on the table if any meeting of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif with Mr Modi takes place.

She said if and when the meeting takes place, all disputes, including Kashmir, Siachen, Sir Creek, water issues, trade and economic agenda, transnational crimes and people-to-people contacts, will come under discussion.On Thursday, Leader of the Opposition in the Pakistan National Assembly Khurshid Shah also urged Mr Sharif to attend Mr Modi’s oath-taking ceremony. Talking to reporters, he said the Prime Minister’s visit will ease tensions between Pakistan and India.

Back in New Delhi, the invitation to Mr Sharif triggered a war of words between the BJP and the Congress.The Congress attacked the BJP, asking if “terror and invitations can go hand in hand”. The saffron outfit hit back, saying it was as “attempt to participate in a joyful celebration of democracy”.