If pictures are supposed to speak more than words, then a two-minute video footage may pretend to fill the vacuum of the missing formal meeting. When Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif sat down for a brief tête-à-tête at the Le Bourget venue of the Paris climate conference, the moment had the potential to eclipse the more substantive reason for their being there. The last time the twain met was in July at Ufa in Russia. But once the bilateral dialogue they sought to resume was sunk by the last-minute cancellation of the two national security advisers’ meeting in August, Modi and Nawaz merely waved at each other from a distance at the United Nations in September.
So it was that against the backdrop of heads of state and government (was that Ashraf Ghani on a sofa in the background?), when Modi and Sharif engaged for a brief “exchange of courtesies” or “achchhi guftagu”, observers far and near rushed in, weaving reams of speculation around the apparent thaw. Details about what transpired weren’t disclosed, but this is as good as it has got in months. If External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj attends the “Heart of Asia” conference on Afghanistan in Islamabad on December 9, more value will be added to these two minutes in Paris.
The other eye-catching tête-à-tête at Le Bourget featured US President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin. It was a 30-minute affair, covering issues from the Turkish downing of a Russian fighter to Syria and Ukraine. The Obama-Putin or Modi-Nawaz chats may not have the dramatic potential of Henry Kissinger’s secret 1971 flight to Peking. But in times of widespread tension, the symbolism of certain photo-ops can help turn a corner to something better.