Indian PM Narendra Modi on Friday made an unexpected sojourn to Pakistan in order to meet his Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif. This is the first time in more than a decade that an Indian premier has visited the rival nation.
In the carefully formulated and authored character of India-Pak diplomacy, this was as spontaneous as it can get and it can also be seen a significant shift and a sign that the icy relationship between the two neighboring countries is thawing.
The stopover was desired by PM Modi barely hours before he flew back home from Afghanistan and it provided a hope that stop-and-start negotiations amongst the two nuclear-armed neighbors might, at last, make progress after three wars and more than 66 years of enmity and bitterness.
When enquired what was talked about, the official informed “Nothing hugely substantial, only light talk, small talk. Both leaders talked a lot about previous Indian PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee.”
The main idea, they told, was to indicate that every meeting, even at the highest level, is not a summit and every meeting is not required to have an “outcome.” PM Modi intended to “demystify” this whole process. Sources informed this was also to undercut “pressure groups and hawks within, especially in the media, who raise the pitch on any meeting.”
Sources informed the ball was set rolling for a probable rendezvous in Lahore when PM Modi called Sharif from Kabul (Afghanistan) this morning to wish him on his birthday just moments before addressing the Afghan Parliament.
The PM Modi greeted Sharif on his birthday and then told he was flying over Pakistan. Sharif said he was in Lahore. Modi is said to have asked him, “Lahore main kya kar rahe hain?” (“What are you doing in Lahore?”) Nawaz replied his granddaughter’s marriage was on Saturday. Narendra Modi had been earlier invited by Sharif thrice, told Sharif “I will greet you in person.”
The call was ended without any confirmation but in the next few hours, the meeting was made possible, with last-minute visas-on-arrival for the Indian delegation, including Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar and NSA Ajit Doval. Modi called and apprised his External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj of his plans. Indian High Commissioner in Islamabad T C A Raghavan who was on leave in a chartered flight from Islamabad and joined the PM’s team at Sharif’s residence.
Sharif embraced Modi after Indian PM landed at the airport in the eastern city of Lahore and the two left by helicopter for Sharif’s nearby Raiwind family estate.
A Pakistani foreign ministry official who was at the meeting said Sharif said to Modi “So, you have finally come.” “Yes, absolutely. I am here,” Modi replied, the official added.
Pakistan’s top consul, Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhry, informed the reporters “Among the decisions taken was that ties between the two countries would be strengthened and also people-to-people contact would be strengthened so that the atmosphere can be created in which the peace process can move forward.”
The next move will be for the two nations’ foreign secretaries to meet in the middle of January, he further added.
PM Narendra Modi was coming back from his trip to Russia. He stopped in Kabul on Friday, where he inaugurated a new parliament complex built with Indian help.
An aide to PM Modi said the Pakistan visit was an impromptu arrangement by the Indian prime minister and his National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, and that it can’t be seen as a sudden deviation in India’s stand. “But yes, it’s a clear signal that active engagement can be done at a quick pace,” the aide said, denying to be identified.