Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (L) flashes the victory sign as he celebrates victory in India's general elections, in New Delhi on May 23. Photo: AFP/Money Sharma

Following Narendra Modi’s historic win in the 2019 general elections, the government has extended an invite to member countries of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation [BIMSTEC] for the Prime Minister’s swearing-in ceremony scheduled for May 30.

The BIMSTEC countries include Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Nepal and Bhutan.

The President of Kyrgyzstan – who’s also chair of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization – and Pravind Jugnauth, prime minister of Mauritius, also have been invited to attend the oath ceremony.

The obvious exclusions from the list of invitees are Pakistan and its ally China – unlike in 2014 when Pakistan’s then-prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, along with South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation [SAARC] countries were invited for Modi’s oath ceremony.

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan had congratulated Modi for his landslide victory in 303 seats out of 542 in the lower house of the Parliament. Khan had earlier expressed the opinion that there could be better chances of peace talks with India if Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party – a right-wing party – won the election.

Relation between the two countries have been tense since 40 Indian policemen died in the Pulwama terror attack, which was carried out by Pakistan-based terror group Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM).

India retaliated as Indian fighter jets crossed into Pakistani air space on February 26 and launched an airstrike on Balakot, a small town in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. India claimed it had evidence that major JeM camps were planning more attacks.

This was the first time that Indian fighter jets crossed into Pakistani air space. The incident had brought India and Pakistan to the brink of war, but return of the captured Indian pilot Abhinandan Varthaman had helped ease tensions.

India had also withdrawn the ‘Most Favored Nation’ status accorded to Pakistan years ago after the attacks. It also renewed pressure to designate Pakistani national and JeM founder Maulana Masood Azhar as a “global terrorist.”

China, Pakistan’s closest ally, had blocked Azhar’s listing four times but finally lifted its technical hold on the listing under the UN Security Council resolution 1267 sanctions committee, whereupon the UN declared Azhar a “global terrorist.”

India had also refused to engage in dialog with Pakistan and insisted that cross-border terror and talks cannot happen simultaneously. Analysts believe that Modi’s hardline policy with Pakistan and  in particular the Balakot air strike were among the main reasons BJP was able to exceed its 2014 tally. By proclaiming a “neighborhood first” policy, the government seems to have hinted at its intentions towards Pakistan.

Meanwhile, Pakistan has downplayed India’s decision over the invitation and said that “India’s internal politics did not permit him [Modi] to extend an invitation.”

Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said that a meeting for the sake of dialogue to find a solution to the Kashmir issue would have been a significant measure instead of attending the swearing-in ceremony.

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