The Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan Sharat Sabharwal will attend the swearing-in ceremony of Nawaz Sharif in Islamabad on Wednesday, said External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid. “Our High Commissioner was here. We talked this morning and he is going back to attend the swearing-in as other High Commissioners would,” Khurshid told reporters in New Delhi.
Terming the swearing-in ceremony as a “local event”, Mr. Khurshid on Tuesday maintained that there was no invitation from Pakistan.
“As I understand, I think, it is a local event. Missions will all be represented. I am not sure if there are any invites for anybody to be coming. Certainly not to our knowledge and therefore there wasn’t any need to take decision on this”, Mr. Khurshid said when asked whether a decision has been taken on who will represent India at the ceremony tomorrow.
The Minister also noted that there would “probably be not enough time between the formal election in the National Assembly and the actual swearing-in”.
Speculation has been rife over who will attend the swearing-in from the Indian side after Mr. Sharif in his interactions with Indian journalists in Lahore said he would be “very happy” to invite Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh to Pakistan for his oath-taking ceremony as the new premier.
Dr. Singh’s special envoy Satinder Lambah met Sharif and discussed ways to take forward the dialogue process to address all the issues of concern between the two countries.
Mr. Lambah had travelled to Lahore as a follow up of Dr. Singh’s conversation with Mr. Sharif on May 12 to greet him on his party’s victory in the general elections there.
Mr. Sharif is expected to be sworn in for a record third term on Wednesday with a very small cabinet comprising close aides shortly after he is formally elected to the post.
Mr. Sharif’s election in the National Assembly or lower house of Parliament is a foregone conclusion as his PML-N party has over 180 members in the 342-member strong House.
The election of the Prime Minister will be done by a division of the House.
63 year-old Mr. Sharif’s nomination papers for the election to the post were submitted by PML-N leaders Ishaq Dar, Khwaja Asif and Abdul Qadir Baloch on Tuesday afternoon.
Contesting the election against Mr. Sharif are Javed Hashmi of the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf and the Makhdoom Amin Fahim of the Pakistan Peoples Party, which led the previous government.
Their nomination papers were also filed today.
Mr. Sharif is expected to retain the crucial foreign affairs and defence portfolios with himself for his third stint as premier.
Though reports have suggested that less than 20 ministers will be sworn in along with Mr. Sharif on June 5, PML-N insiders said that the cabinet could be limited to only 8 to 10 members and would comprise only close aides holding key portfolios.
“At a later stage, the Prime Minister could expand the cabinet after Ramzan. In the initial phase, only top PML-N leaders and close aides of Mr. Sharif will be accommodated in the cabinet”, said a PML-N leader.
Sources said Mr. Sharif is expected to keep his cabinet small for various reasons, including the new government’s desire to cut spending and lobbying within the party for key portfolios.
“All groups within the party and influential leaders will have to be accommodated. Then there are leaders from Sindh and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa provinces, where the PML-N is not in power, and they will also have to be taken care of”, a source said.
Mr. Sharif served as premier during 1990-93 and 1997-99 but was ousted from office before he could complete his term — once on corruption charges and later because of a military coup led by Gen. Pervez Musharraf.
After being deposed in 1999, he was jailed and exiled to Saudi Arabia.