ISLAMABAD – Pakistan’s prime minister will attend the inauguration of India’s Prime Minister-designate Narendra Modi, a first for the nuclear-armed rivals, officials said Saturday.
Pakistan and India have a history of uneasy relations. They have fought three wars over the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir since their independence from Britain in 1947. Saturday’s decision by Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif could signal a further easing of the tensions.
In Islamabad, a Foreign Ministry statement said Sharif will travel to New Delhi to attend the ceremony on Monday. It added that Sharif will meet with Modi on Tuesday.
Sharif’s special assistant on foreign affairs and Pakistan’s foreign minister will accompany him, the statement said.
Sharif already congratulated Modi over his Bharatiya Janata Party’s landslide victory in the elections, which concluded last week. Sharif’s office also confirmed the visit.
No foreign leaders were invited to outgoing Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s inaugurations in 2004 and 2009.
Relations between Pakistan and India froze after an attack on Mumbai in 2008 in which Pakistani militants killed 166 people. A mild thaw since has helped trade, though not much progress has been made in normalizing bilateral ties.
During the election campaign, Modi took a tough stance on Pakistan, accusing it of sponsoring terror attacks in India.
But since his victory, Modi has softened his stance somewhat. He has said that he would like to engage India’s neighbors and have friendly relations with them.
Indian leaders welcomed Sharif’s decision to attend the inauguration.
“This is the beginning of a new relationship. It is good news,” said Prakash Javadekar, spokesman of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party.
The top elected official in Indian Kashmir, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, also said he hoped the visit would mark a new start for the two countries’ relations.
“It shows that he (Modi) can prevail over forces inimical to good relations with India,” Abdullah said.
Around 3,000 people — political leaders and BJP supporters from across India — are expected to attend the inauguration ceremony Monday.
Sharif and outgoing Prime Minister Singh last met in New York in September 2013 on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly. And a month earlier, Singh and the Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari met at a regional summit in the Iranian capital, Tehran.
Meanwhile, bomb attacks in Pakistan killed at least nine people on Saturday. The deadliest attack happened when a roadside bomb exploded near the village of Shati in the Mohmand tribal region, killing six soldiers, the military said. In a statement, the military said “terrorists” planted the bomb, without elaborating.
In another attack, a group of gunmen ambushed a military convoy near the town of Landi Kotal in the Khyber tribal region, killing two soldiers and wounding three. The military said eight attackers were killed in a retaliatory action by the troops.
In Islamabad, a bomb exploded in a supermarket parking lot in the early afternoon, killing a guard and wounding a passer-by, police officer Chaudhry Abid said. A second bomb exploded outside another market, about 5 kilometers (3 miles) away, breaking windows but wounding no one, police officer Mohammad Shafqat said.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the bombings, though authorities have blamed the Pakistani Taliban for similar attacks across the country. The attacks come days after Pakistani warplanes pounded militant hideouts in the North Waziristan tribal region bordering Afghanistan, killing 60. The military said those killed were militants. Local residents said civilians also died.
Under Sharif, Pakistan’s government has been negotiating with the Taliban to end their violent insurgency, which has killed thousands.