Pakistan Prime Minister Imran and Indian Prime Minister Modi
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan during a meeting. File photos Image Credit: Social media

Dubai Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision not to invite Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan to his swearing-in ceremony on May 30 may hurt him as Imran has been keen on a peace dialogue with India since coming into power last year.

This was probably the last thing Imran was expecting from Modi who had even invited former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to his oath-taking ceremony in 2014. Nawaz Sharif did go despite reservations from his country’s armed forces.

Imran had wished in early May that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) win the Indian elections as they are more likely hold a dialogue with Pakistan. “Perhaps if the BJP — a right-wing party — wins, some kind of settlement in Kashmir could be reached,” he had said earlier.

Since Modi won, it was good reason for Imran to be at his oath-taking ceremony. Modi should have invited Imran as it is a great opportunity to reduce tensions between the two countries. Imran’s presence at Modi’s swearing-in would have attracted world attention. It would have helped Modi send a positive message regarding his country’s peace efforts.

Confidence building measures

Modi should respond to Imran’s offers to hold a dialogue since elections are over and he is in a position to take decisions to move forward on peace talks. Both the countries should open dialogues at different levels to discuss issues and try to find solutions to core issues. They should take confidence building measures such as opening up trade routes, passenger and cargo transport services across the borders including Kashmir and restore people to people contact. There should be an exchange of delegations belonging to different segments of society and resume tours of cricket teams to play international matches in India and Pakistan.

At the same time, backdoor diplomacy should be given a rest as this has not yielded any result in the past. It is the best time both for India and Pakistan to talk on issues as Modi has come into power with a thumping majority while Imran is also a popular prime minister backed by the armed forces. Decisions taken by these two powerful leaders will hardly face any resistance.

Pakistan reaction

Pakistan has played down the Indian government’s decision of not inviting Imran, saying India’s internal politics did not permit Modi to extend an invitation.

“His [Modi’s] entire focus during the election campaign was Pakistan-bashing. It was unwise to expect that he would get rid of this narrative [soon],” Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi told a news channel on Monday evening.

An Indian government statement said the leaders of Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Nepal and Bhutan have been invited to Modi’s swearing-in. Maldives and Kyrgyz Republic have also been invited.

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Imran's offer to hold dialogue

Imran has repeatedly offered to hold talks with India. He even made the offer in his acceptance speech after he was elected prime minister, but India did not respond. Relations between the two countries got worse in February this year after the suicide bombing in Indian-administered Kashmir. A militant group based in Pakistan claimed responsibility for killing 40 Indian troops.

India and Pakistan then carried out tit-for-tat air strikes, but to great relief of the international community the two countries retreated from the brink of further action.

Despite all the tension, Imran called Modi and congratulated him on his landslide win in the elections. Before this, both the leaders spoke only once when Modi had congratulated his Pakistani counterpart on his election victory in July 2018.

Imran and Modi may meet in Kyrgyzstan

However, there is still hope that both leaders may meet each other next month at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit in Kyrgyzstan. Both of them will be there at the summit which will be attended by all nations from the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).

Qureshi said meeting for the sake of dialogue to find a solution to the Kashmir issue, as well as Siachen and Sir Creek disputes, would be a significant measure instead of attending the swearing-in ceremony.

Last week, Qureshi had an unscheduled and informal meeting with Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on the sidelines of SCO meeting of foreign ministers in Bishkek. It was the first meeting between the two foreign ministers since the Pulwama standoff.

According to the Indian media, Islamabad made a rare exception for Swaraj to fly directly through Pakistani airspace to attend the SCO meeting. Pakistan had closed its airspace for flights to and from India on February 26 after the Indian Air Force strike in Balakot. “The Indian government had requested us to allow Ms Swaraj to fly over Pakistan to avoid the longer route, and we gave them permission,” said Foreign Office spokesperson Mohammad Faisal.