Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a surprise “goodwill” visit to arch-rival Pakistan on Friday, with the first such trip in a decade seen as a step towards normalising ties between the nuclear-armed neighbours.
During the stop over at Lahore, Modi and Sharif spent some 90 minutes at Sharif’s ancestral residence in Raiwind town, about 40 km from Lahore, and decided to continue the suspended dialogue between the two countries after months of border tension.
Modi also blessed the granddaughter of Sharif on her wedding. Modi, who sipped Kashmiri tea while meeting Sharif, also met the Pakistani leader’s mother.
Modi reportedly told Sharif that it was important for the leadership of the two countries to understand each other’s position. The Pakistani media said the two leaders had decided to take forward their bilateral relations for the benefit of South Asia.
Modi and Sharif agreed to promote people-to-people contacts and confidence building measures.
After returning home, Modi tweeted: “Spent a warm evening with Sharif family at their family home. Nawaz Sahab’s birthday & granddaughter’s marriage made it a double celebration”.
He said he was touched by Sharif’s “affection” towards former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and said he had recalled their interactions and “asked me to convey his regards to Atal ji”.
Sharif and his brother and Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif were among the VIPs who received Modi at the Allama Iqbal International Airport as Modi landed in an Indian Air Force plane. The two leaders then took a helicopter to Raiwind.
As a reported that the visit “was not that surprising” as the Lahore Air Traffic Control had been told about it on Thursday.
But few in India and Pakistan knew about the programme, which came at a time when bilateral relations have shown definite improvement after months of tension and border clashes.
The Pakistan Air Force presented a guard of honour for Modi.
The Pakistan government welcomed the development with Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhry describing it as a goodwill gesture on the part of the Indian prime minister.
Modi and Sharif had fleetingly met at the Paris Climate Summit on November 30, preparing the atmosphere for a resumption of the stalled bilateral dialogue.
Indian National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, who accompanied Modi to Lahore, met his Pakistani counterpart in Bangkok earlier this month. This was followed by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s visit to Islamabad.
The two foreign secretaries are set to meet in January, also in the Pakistani capital.
Hours before he left Kabul for Lahore, Modi addressed the Afghan parliament and blasted Pakistan – but without naming the country – for sponsoring terrorism in Afghanistan.
“Terror and violence cannot be the instrument to shape Afghanistan’s future or dictate the choices Afghans make,” Modi told Afghan MPs. Modi reached Kabul early on Friday after a two-day visit to Russia.
In an obvious reference to Pakistan, Modi said there were “some who did not want us to be here”.
“There were those who saw sinister designs in our presence here. There are others who were uneasy at the strength of our partnership. Some even tried to discourage us.”
At the same time, Modi said Pakistan must act like a bridge between South Asia and Afghanistan.
“All of us in the region – India, Pakistan, Iran and others – must unite, in trust and cooperation, behind this common purpose and in recognition of our common destiny.”
Ahead of his address, he and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani jointly inaugurated Afghanistan’s new parliament building which was constructed with Indian assistance of $90 million.
After arriving in Kabul from Moscow early Friday morning, Modi and Ghani held delegation-level talks over breakfast.
The Indian prime minister also met Afghanistan’s Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah and former president Hamid Karzai.
Modi had left on Wednesday for a two-day visit to Russia for the annual summit-level meeting during which the two countries signed 16 agreements, including those related to defence and nuclear production.