NEW DELHI: The news of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s surprise stopover in Pakistan on Friday took everyone by surprise. A move that is seen to have reset the relationship between the two nuclear-armed neighbors, paving the way for official dialogue to resume next month.
In a tweet that instantly sparked frenzy, Modi announced he will “drop by” in Lahore on his way back to New Delhi from Afghanistan making him the first Indian Prime Minister to set foot in Pakistan in 11 years. The last time an Indian prime minister had visited Pakistan was in 2004. Sharif, however, came to India last year to attend Modi’s swearing-in ceremony.)
“Looking forward to meeting PM Nawaz Sharif in Lahore today afternoon, where I will drop by on my way back to Delhi,” the Indian premier said on Twitter.
Following this announcement, Indian Minister for External Affairs Sushma Swaraj appreciated the Indian premier’s decision to stop by in Pakistan on his way to India, saying “That’s like a statesman. These are the kind of relations we should have with our neighbours,” she tweeted.
Narendra Modi has chosen the birthday of Pakistan’s founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah to make his maiden visit to Pakistan — speaks of symbolism.
He hugged PM Sharif as soon as he landed in Lahore.
The two leaders met for a little less than two hours at Sharif’s festively lit ancestral home in Lahore, where they talked about improving ties.
“Beyond the noise, a personal connect. The Prime Ministers discuss India Pakistan relations,” tweeted Vikas Swarup, a spokesman for India’s Ministry of External Affairs. He added that Modi met Sharif at his home as “a special gesture” and blessed the latter’s granddaughter ahead of her wedding.
NDTV 24×7 news TV channel called it “Modi’s masterstroke.” In Pakistan, the phrase “birthday diplomacy” trended.
A statement from Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the leaders “expressed their desire to carry forward the dialogue process for the larger good of the people of the two countries.”
Pakistani security analyst Rifaat Hussain said the symbolism of the visit is “huge.”He added that the meeting is likely to have been preceded by some “behind the door” preparation.
Bharatiya Janata Party’s Nalin Kohli told media “It was a spontaneous but bold and innovative decision to visit Pakistan.” “The India-Pakistan story has many difficult issues lingering for decades. It is not an easy path ahead. But the two leaders are trying to establish a personal equation that can add momentum to the structured process of official talks in the future,” he added.
The two leaders last met during the climate change conference in Paris in November, chatting briefly.
Analysts said the prospect of the Friday meeting was probably kept hidden until the last minute to prevent the irrational expectations and acrimony that often accompany any such diplomatic move.