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FM makes light of no invitation for PM to Modi’s oath-taking

KARACHI: Pakistan has played down a decision by the Indian government not to invite Prime Minister Imran Khan to Thursday’s swearing-in ceremony of his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi, saying India’s ‘internal politics’ did not permit him to extend an invitation.

“His [Modi’s] entire focus [during the election campaign] was on Pakistan-bashing. It was unwise to expect that he can get rid of this narrative [soon],” Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi told a news channel in the evening.

Earlier, a Reuters report had said New Delhi would not invite PM Khan to Mr Modi’s oath-taking ceremony.

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

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

Then prime minister Nawaz Sharif had attended the event.

Speaking at a Geo News programme on Monday evening, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said the Indian premier had congratulated Imran Khan after he won the general election last year and wrote a letter as well.

He said relations between countries were based on reciprocity and PM Khan had congratulated Mr Modi as a goodwill gesture.

He said a meeting for the sake of dialogue to find a solution to the Kashmir issue, as well as Siachen and Sir Creek disputes, would have been a significant measure instead of attending the swearing-in ceremony.

“Finding a new way [to resume dialogue] is also essential for them [India],” Mr Qureshi said. “If he [Modi] wants development of this region…the only way is to sit with Pakistan to find a solution,” the foreign minister added.

“It is in the interest of Pakistan to defuse tensions…Pakistan did not create tension. Now the entire world agrees that Pakistan had no role in the Pulwama incident,” Mr Qureshi said, referring to an attack on a convoy of the Indian army in occupied Kashmir in February that left over 40 soldiers dead.

Exception for Sushma

Last week, FM Qureshi had an unscheduled and informal meeting with Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on the sidelines of SCO meeting of foreign ministers in Bishkek.

It was the first face-to-face meeting between the two foreign ministers and the highest-level interaction since the post-Pulwama standoff, which had ended through intervention of foreign intermediaries.

According to the Indian media, Islamabad made a rare exception for Ms Swaraj to fly directly through Pakistani airspace to attend the SCO meeting.

Pakistan had closed its airspace for flights to and from India on Feb 26 after the Balakot standoff.

“The Indian government had requested us to allow Ms Swaraj to fly over Pakistan to avoid the longer route, and we gave them permission,” Foreign Office spokesperson Mohammad Faisal told Hindu

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