Pakistan has attributed the snub of India not inviting its Prime Minister Imran Khan for Narendra Modi‘s oath-taking ceremony to the Indian leader’s election campaign that “focus[ed] on Pakistan-bashing”.
Speaking to a Pakistani television news channel on Monday evening, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi reiterated his country’s invitation to India to engage in dialogue on all outstanding issues.
Relations between the two countries have yet to thaw after a military standoff following a suicide attack in Indian-administered Kashmir that killed at least 40 people in mid-February.
The nuclear-armed neighbours have fought two of their three wars since independence in 1947 over the disputed territory of Kashmir.
India accused Pakistan of “controlling” the attack and the Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) armed group that carried it out. Pakistan denied any connection to the attack or JeM.
The standoff saw both sides conduct air attacks on each other’s territory, and an Indian fighter jet shot down during an aerial dogfight.
India suspended all dialogue following the standoff, and Modi made frequent references to the military action against Pakistan during an election campaign that saw him sweep back to power, winning 303 of the 542 seats in India’s parliament.
His National Democratic Alliance won 352 seats in all, according to official results.
“The issue on which Narendra Modi fought the election, the whole focus was on Pakistan bashing [and] on fanning nationalism,” Pakistani Foreign Minister Qureshi told Geo News on Monday.
“Now, to expect that he will be able to rid himself of that narrative within a moment, and open himself up to the entire opposition’s criticism, that is unlikely.”
‘Hold dialogue on real issues’
Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led the right-wing alliance to sweep back to power on the back of a platform promising economic prosperity, and frequently referred to hardline action against Pakistan as a form of nationalism that India was in need of.
On Monday, Raveesh Kumar, the Indian foreign ministry spokesperson, said that India’s invitations to the oath-taking were “in line with government’s focus on its ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy”.
India is inviting the leaders of Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Nepal, Bhutan, Mauritius and Kyrgyzstan to the oath-taking on May 30, according to a government statement.
Qureshi reiterated that Pakistan desired a resumption of bilateral dialogue with India, not an invitation to a ceremony.
“Even if [Pakistani PM] Imran Khan did go, then what would we have gained from attending this oath-taking? We can only attain something when we hold dialogue on the real issues.”
Qureshi briefly met Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj on the sidelines of a Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) meeting in Kyrgyzstan last week, the highest-level contact between the two countries since the military standoff in February and March.
The two leaders held an informal conversation, the Pakistani foreign minister said.