by Wu Qiang
NEW DELHI, May 26 (Xinhua) -- Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was the first foreign head of government who shook hand with newly sworn-in Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
After a one-hour-and-an-half solemn ceremony of swearing by the prime minister and his 45-member cabinet, the leaders of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) went to congratulate Modi against the background of the Roman-Indian style brown presidential palace.
Under the limelight, the hand-shaking of the leaders of the SAARC countries sent a special message to the whole world as well - - the message of peace, as well as good neighborliness.
This is also the first time SAARC leaders were invited as a group to the swearing in ceremony of an Indian prime minister.
"I'm carrying the message of peace and will discuss all matters with the Indian leadership. Dialogue process is the only way to resolve bilateral issues. Forging cordial relations with all neighbors including India is foremost priority of Pakistan," Sharif told the media before departing for India Monday.
The invitation to the Pakistan PM as well as other leaders of the SAARC countries by Modi is widely considered a diplomatic coup de grace by the new prime minister, who was thought to be a hardliner towards Pakistan by many.
However, the event, which came immediately after the ceremony which was sacred for India, could be seen as a showcase of a stronger regional foreign policy of the new government in Delhi which is putting priority to relations with its immediate neighbors in its overall diplomacy.
Local analysts say that apart from the "bonus" obtained from the presence of Sharif, Modi is winning more by having other SAARC leaders at his launch of government. The presence of nearly all leaders of SAARC countries has a meaning beyond possible India- Pakistan detente, said analysts.
This could even signal a strategic readjustment of India's foreign policy from some empty concepts like non-aligned movement to realistic touch, first by embracing its South Asian neighbors -- some of them being poor cousins -- first.
"Delhi has been unwilling to confront and address the reasons for the steady loss of Indian influence in the region over the last many decades. An India that fails to reclaim its primacy in the subcontinent, Modi can now see, can't really make a lasting impression on the world beyond," said Raja Mohan, a well-known strategic analyst.
Another analyst says India needs a "secure periphery" for its own development, like China did in the past few decades.
Zorawar Daulet Singh said that "one of the paradoxical legacies of the unipolar-globalization era was that India in a sense retreated to its territorial shell and ceased to be an active shaper of its periphery."
A more active regional foreign policy is seen as the first step for India to engage other powers of the world, according to debaters on TV programs.
"The Modi regime is arguably placed at a ... crossroad where the imperative for deeper engagement with Asia and the world can only be sustained on a foundation of internal stability, institutional renewal, robust economic growth and development, and, of course a secure periphery," said Singh.