India-pakistan-flagAn unprecedented meeting between the leaders of Pakistan and India at new Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s inauguration raises hopes for new progress in improving relations

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan was engaged in talks with Indian premier Narendra Modi shortly after Modi’s swearing in ceremony on Monday. The visit of a leader of Pakistan to the inauguration of their counterpart in India is an event unprecedented since both countries gained independence in 1947. Relations between the two nations, which have always been difficult, became notably strained since the 2008 Mumbai attacks planned and executed by militants based in Pakistan, where more than 160 people lost their lives.

News of the invitation caught the Pakistani Prime Minister by surprise. He attended the ceremony despite significant criticism at home. Discussion was centred on the trial of suspects of the Mumbai attacks and enhancing international trade and were described by Sharif as ‘good and constructive.’ Ahead of the talks, 151 Indian fishermen, held in Karachi and Hyderabad for accidentally crossing the border, were released as a goodwill gesture. These talks are a continuation of discussions Sharif held with outgoing Indian PM Manmohan Singh in 2013 following Sharif’s re-election that year.

There have been real concerns about the new Indian PM’s history with the country’s Muslim minority. Modi was governor of the state of Gujarat from 2001 and was accused of overlooking and even facilitating the 2002 massacre in the region, where more than 1,000 died, the majority being Muslim. He has always denied any wrongdoing and was absolved by the Indian Supreme Court last year of any complicity. During his election campaign, he played down BJP party’s long history of Hindu nationalism in favour of discussing the economy and the then incumbent Congress party’s recent corruption scandals.

Following the discussion, Sharif stressed the need for cooperation between the two countries and indicated that the foreign secretaries of the two nations are likely to meet regularly for formal talks.

Alexander Smith, Politics (Correspondent)

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