US media sees peace opportunity in PM Sharif’s India visit

WASHINGTON: Highlighting the importance of Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s decision to attend his incoming Indian counterpart Narendra Modi’s inaugural ceremony at New Delhi’s invitation, the American media reports on Saturday saw an opportunity for peace in the South Asian region.

The Washington Post, in an Islamabad-datelined report called the Pakistani and Indian leaders getting together at the swearing-ceremony as marking a “historic first for the two often hostile neighbors.”

A New Delhi-datelined dispatch in The New York Times noted that the ‘mutual gesture’ of Indian invitation and Islamabad’s attending Monday’s ceremony at the prime ministerial level “may mark a turning point in the relations between the two countries, which have been particularly frosty since early 2013.”

The United States, meanwhile, has expressed support for increased Pakistan-India engagement, with a State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki saying earlier this week “we welcome increased engagement between India and Pakistan and their leaders.”

In their reports on the South Asian development, the American newspapers also referred to long-running tensions between the two nuclear power neighbours over Jammu and Kashmir dispute.

The reports also noted that Modi – who has been severely criticized for failure to stop 2002 anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat – is seen as being strong enough – in comparison with previous Congress party government – to go for a peace effort with Pakistan after the Bharatiya Janata Party’s landslide election win this month.

It also quoted Nirmala Sitaraman, spokeswoman for Modi’s party in India, saying that party officials were ‘happy’ to hear of Sharif’s “good-will gesture.”

The report said Modi, a Hindu nationalist, has broken new ground by inviting top officials from all the members of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation to Monday’s swearing-in, which has traditionally not included any foreign leaders.