Surprise Pakistan visit: PM Narendra Modi goes the extra mile in search of closer ties


Surprise Pakistan visit: PM Narendra Modi goes the extra mile in search of closer ties

NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Narendra Modi flew to Lahore on Friday for a surprise meeting with his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif, an initiative hailed by many as a diplomatic master stroke though the opposition Congress lashed out at what it described as an exercise in self-projection.

The two leaders met for 90 minutes at Sharif 's ancestral home in Raiwind, on the outskirts of Lahore. During the course of the meeting, the Pakistan prime minister is said to have told his Indian counterpart that regardless of the politics, people in both countries desired peace.


Sharif recalled his visit to India during the 1982 Asian Games, during which he travelled through Punjab and Haryana, and reached the conclusion that most people in both countries wanted peace.

Sources told ET that Modi emphasised the need for regional peace and connectivity during the discussions. The surprise visit seems to have created a conducive atmosphere and given a momentum to bilateral ties, they said.

It wasn't immediately clear how the Lahore visit came about.

A source in Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), Pakistan's ruling party, told PTI that Sharif had invited Modi to attend the marriage of his granddaughter Mehrun Nisa.

Sources familiar with the matter said the trip may been finalised at the last minute though the Indian leader may have had a stopover in Lahore in mind for some time.

While Modi went to Russia on an Air India aircraft, an Indian Air Force plane with more security officials arrived later.

Extra security personnel were also dispatched to Kabul, possibly in preparation for the trip. However, the trip may have been finalised only on Friday, when Modi called Sharif after his address to the Afghan Parliament. The Indian high commissioner in Pakistan was then asked to drive down from Islamabad to Lahore.

The visit, the first by an Indian premier in more than 10 years, come days after External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj visited Pakistan for a regional conference. The surprise trip was announced by Modi, who was on a scheduled visit to Kabul in Afghanistan, when he tweeted that he would stop over at Lahore to greet the Pakistan PM on his birthday.


Unlike the political discord in India, the trip appeared to have received a largely positive reception in Pakistan, with that country's political establishment backing the surprise initiative. "Welcome to Pakistan @narendramodi. Constant engagement is the only way to resolve all outstanding issues," opposition Pakistan People's Party Chairperson Bilawal Bhutto Zardari tweeted. "That's like a statesman," External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj tweeted about the surprise visit. "One should have such relations with the neighbours," she added. Home Minister Rajnath Singh hailed the PM's "innovative diplomacy".

Congress leader Anand Sharma saw no statesmanship, criticising the surprise visit on various counts, including the alleged involvement of businessman Sajjan Jindal in back-channel talks and for keeping opposition parties and Parliament in the dark.

The foreign secretaries of the two countries are likely to meet in Delhi on January 15. Modi was received by Sharif on the tarmac of Allama Iqbal International Airport, and was accorded a red carpet welcome after touching down at 4.20 pm local time (4.50 pm IST). He then took a helicopter ride to Sharif 's ancestral home in Raiwind, on the outskirts of Lahore. Both leaders pledged to pursue the peace process as Modi spent some 90 minutes at the Pakistan PM's palatial residence. Jindal was not present at the meeting between the leaders in Raiwind. Modi greeted Sharif on his 66th birthday, attended the wedding celebrations of the Pakistani leader's granddaughter and held talks on bilateral issues, officials and media reports later said. "Infusing a positive spirit in the neighbourhood, Modi departs from Pakistan after a few hours in Lahore," external affairs ministry spokesman Vikas Swarup later tweeted.

The visit came more than two weeks after Modi and Sharif had an unscheduled meeting on the sidelines of the climate change talks in Paris.

The relations between India and Pakistan have witnessed some positive developments after a chill lasting several months. The two countries recently decided to enter into a comprehensive dialogue.

The last visit to Pakistan by an Indian prime minister was in 2004 by Atal Bihari Vajpayee, whose 91st birthday was also on Friday, and who is credited with bringing about a thaw in relations with Islamabad. Modi called on the former PM after reaching Delhi.

The national security advisers of India and Pakistan met on December 6 in Bangkok. The development surprised many and an announcement through a joint press release was made only after the meeting was over.

The external affairs ministry at the time said the advisers discussed "peace and security, terrorism, Jammu & Kashmir, and other issues, including tranquility along the LoC (Line of Control)".

The two sides later announced during Swaraj's visit to Islamabad that they had decided to engage in a "comprehensive" dialogue that would include peace and security, and Jammu & Kashmir.

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