India chooses not to invite PM Khan for Modi’s swearing-in ceremony: official sources

NEW DELHI (Reuters): India will not invite Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan to the swearing-in ceremony Thursday of Narendra Modi, who starts his second term as India’s prime minister, according to two sources in New Delhi’s foreign ministry.

Any early warming in ties between the Hindu-majority India and Pakistan now seems unlikely in light of how the nuclear-armed neighbours came close to a fourth war following February’s Pulwama incident that left 40 Indian police in Indian-occupied Kashmir (IoK). The two have fought three since both won independence from Britain in 1947.

An Indian government statement on Monday said the leaders of Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Bhutan — all members of the little-known Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) alongside India — have been invited to Modi’s swearing-in.

“This is in line with Government’s focus on its ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy,” a government spokesperson said.

The leaders of Kyrgyzstan and Mauritius have also been invited but two sources in Indian’s foreign ministry said Pakistan will not be on the list, without providing further information.

For the swearing-in ceremony for Modi’s first term in 2014, all nations from the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) — which includes Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the Maldives — were invited.

In 2014, the then-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif attended the ceremony to the anger of some of Modi’s Hindu-nationalist allies.

Modi, however, then seized upon the February 14 suicide bombing in Indian-occupied Kashmir (IoK) that left 40 Indian paramilitaries dead. New Delhi had launched a cross-border air raid and Islamabad hit back the next day, downing two Indian Air Force (IAF) jets and capturing one of their pilots.

Modi, who was widely believed to have benefited politically from the aforementioned stand-off, won a second term with an increased majority in a general election whose results were declared last week.

Khan had consequently called Modi on Sunday to congratulate him on his win. The latter thanked the former for extending good wishes to him.

In a message posted on his official Twitter account earlier, Khan had said he was looking forward to working with Modi for “peace, progress and prosperity in South Asia”.

“I congratulate Prime Minister Modi on the electoral victory of BJP and allies. Look forward to working with him for peace, progress and prosperity in South Asia,” the Pakistan premier had said.

In response to the tweet by his Pakistani counterpart, Modi had said, “Thank you PM. I warmly express my gratitude for your good wishes”.

“I have always given primacy to peace and development in our region,” he had added.

Modi could still meet Khan at a Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit in Kyrgyzstan next month that both leaders may attend.

A spokesperson for Pakistan’s embassy in New Delhi was not immediately available for comment.