Indian PM accepts invite to visit Pak for SAARC Summit

UFA, July 10

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi accepted an invitation on Friday from his counterpart Nawaz Sharif to pay his first visit to Pakistan, signalling a new thaw in ties between the nuclear-armed rivals.

After months of stalemate and recriminations, Modi and Sharif spoke for around an hour while visiting Russia, the talks ending with an agreement by the Indian premier to attend a regional summit in Islamabad next year.

While analysts warned major obstacles still lay in the way of significant progress, a joint statement said both leaders recognised their “collective responsibility to ensure peace and promote development”.

The statement included joint, albeit vague, commitments on some of the most contentious issues between them, including speeding up efforts to bring those behind the 2008 Mumbai attacks to justice.

While Sharif did attend Modi’s inauguration in May last year, relations soon cooled amid flare-ups in violence along the border in Jammu and Kashmir.

Indian officials had previously refused to confirm Modi’s participation at the next summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, which is being held in Pakistan’s capital.

But the statement said Sharif had used their talks in Russia as an opportunity to reiterate an earlier request for Modi to attend the summit, adding that “Prime Minister Modi accepted that invitation”.

It will be the first time that Modi — who has a reputation as a hardline nationalist — travels to Pakistan since coming to power.

In the statement, it was agreed that officials responsible for security on both sides of the border would meet soon, as would their respective national security advisers to “discuss all issues connected to terrorism”.

India has long argued Pakistan shelters or sponsors militant groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba, which is accused of being behind an attack on the financial capital Mumbai that left 166 people dead in November 2008.

Modi’s government was furious in April when Pakistani authorities freed the alleged mastermind of the attacks, Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, on bail. While it did not go into details, the statement said that “both sides agreed to discuss ways and means to expedite the Mumbai case trial, including additional information like providing voice samples”.

A senior Pakistani security official acknowledged Delhi had “concerns” about Lakhvi but added that Islamabad was unhappy at what it regards as interference by India in restive Baluchistan province.

“The two sides will have to sincerely address each other’s concerns,” the official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP.