By Sruthi Gottipati
NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Narendra Modi has invited the leaders of Pakistan and other neighbors to his inauguration as prime minister, a spokeswoman for his party said on Wednesday, in a bold step to embark on a policy of regional engagement.
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will be on the guest list of leaders from the eight-member South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) invited to attend Modi's swearing in next Monday, spokeswoman Nirmala Sitharaman said.
"All the SAARC countries have been invited through the proper channels to be part of the swearing-in ceremony" Sitharaman said. It was not immediately clear if Sharif would accept. Analysts said the visit would be politically difficult.
If the Pakistani prime minister were to attend the planned ceremony in the forecourt of the presidential mansion, it would be a first in the history of the nuclear-armed rival nations who have fought three wars since independence in 1947.
Pakistan's high commission in New Delhi said it had not yet received an invitation, which must be issued formally by the foreign ministry. Sri Lanka's President Mahinda Rajapaksa will participate in the inauguration, his office said.
"The president has got the invitation similar (to) all other South Asian leaders. President Rajapaksa...will participate in the inauguration," a presidential aide told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
The victorious Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party has long advocated a tough stance on Pakistan and Modi is seen as an uncompromising hardliner on issues relating to national security.
But his huge victory in the election also gives him the political capital to reach out to difficult neighbors including Pakistan in a way his predecessor Manmohan Singh could not, weakened by a raft of graft scandals and public discontent at home.
After his own election last year, Sharif's administration had also suggested that the Indian prime minister be invited as to attend the ceremony, but Singh declined.
Sharif is known to have faced resistance from hardliners at home, notably within the armed forces, over his more dovish stance toward India. Indian television channel CNN-IBN cited unnamed sources said Sharif may not come for the ceremony and may send a representative.
"Still, politically it's a great move, as the largest country in the region, India should be reaching out to its neighbors," C.Raja Mohan, an influential foreign policy analyst said.
(Reporting by Sruthi Gottipati; Writing by Douglas Busvine and Sanjeev Miglani; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)