WASHINGTON (TIP): The United States has welcomed Prime Minister-designate Narendra Modi’s invitation to leaders of Pakistan and other SAARC nations for his swearing-in ceremony on Monday, May 26, commenting that increased engagement with Islamabad is a “positive step”. “Broadly speaking, we welcome increased engagement between India and Pakistan and their leaders and other leaders in the region and India’s engagement with its neighbors leading up to the inauguration,” State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said.
Asked to comment specifically on Pakistan, Psaki said: “We believe increased engagement between India and Pakistan is a positive step, so we’ll see what happens.” Quizzed if Washington would “encourage” the Pakistani leaders to attend the ceremony, she said: “I don’t think we’re going to get into that level of engagement, but certainly, the invitation has been issued, we support increased dialogue, and this is representative of that.” US media called the Modi move an unusual gesture, with The New York Times noting that for someone with the reputation of being a hardliner, Modi has “broken new ground by extending invitations to the leaders of all of India’s neighbors”.
“Previous swearing-in ceremonies have been small affairs, a reflection of the country’s inward-looking approach to politics. Modi has made it clear that he hopes to make India a leader in its own neighborhood, knitting together a regional trade and economic bloc,” the NYT commented. South Asia expert Stephen P Cohen has been quoted as saying: “I think we might see a dialogue between Modi and Sharif. But Sharif has an Army problem and Modi has a right-wing ideological problem.” Some other reports noted that the decision, among the first taken by Modi as Prime Minister-elect, could signal intent to improve ties with Pakistan and other neighbors.