Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived in Lahore on Friday for a meeting with his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif in a surprise visit to this country -the first visit to Pakistan by an Indian premier in more than 10 years. Modi was received by Sharif with a warm hug at the tarmac of Allama Iqbal International Airport after his unexpected stopover here on his way back home after a day-long trip today to Afghanistan where he went after concluding a two-day visit to Russia on Thursday.
Modi was accorded a red carpet welcome as PM’s special IAF Boeing 737 plane made a smooth touchdown at 4.20 local time(4.50 IST). He then took a chopper to proceed to Sharif’s Raiwind palatial residence in the outskirts of Lahore.
“Looking forward to meeting PM Nawaz Sharif in Lahore today afternoon, where I will drop by on my way back to Delhi,” tweeted Modi, who was on his first to Pakistan, as he wound up his visit to Afghanistan.
“Spoke to PM Nawaz Sharif & wished him on his birthday,” Modi added in another tweet. Sharif turned 66 today. The visit came more than two weeks after Modi and Sharif had an unscheduled meeting at climate change talks in Paris. The agenda of the meeting is not known but the two leaders are expected to discuss major issues which have rocked ties between the two countries.
The relations between India and Pakistan have witnessed some positive developments after chill for several months. The two countries recently decided to launch a comprehensive dialogue after Modi-Sharif meet in Paris. “That’s like a statesman,” External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj tweeted about the surprise visit by Modi. “One should have such relations with the neighbours,” she added.
The last visit to Pakistan by an Indian prime minister was in 2004 by Atal Bihari Vajpayee, whose 91st birthday fell today and who is credited with bringing about a thaw in relations with Islamabad. Pakistani authorities put security on high alert in Lahore especially around the airport area following the announcement of Modi’s brief visit to the eastern city.
A heavy contingent of police and Pakistan Rangers have reached the Allama Iqbal International Airport and taken charge of the security. “Security in Lahore has been put on high alert,” a senior police official told PTI. He said police have also been deployed on the adjoining areas of the airport.
A PM House spokesman here said the Indian premier would stay in Lahore for about two hours. A PML-N source told PTI that Sharif had invited Modi to attend the marriage of his granddaughter Mehrun Nisa which is taking place today at the Sharif’s Raiwind palatial residence.
“I cannot confirm but there are chances that Modi goes to Raiwind and holds meeting with PM Sharif at his residence,” he said. “Welcome to Pakistan @narendramodi. Constant engagement is the only way to resolve all outstanding issues,” Opposition PPP Chairperson Bilawal Bhutto Zardari tweeted. Amid reports that Modi’s visit was planned only today, Foreign Office spokesman Qazi Khalilullah said, “Yes, we have been informed by the Indian High Commission that PM Narendra Modi would stop over in Lahore to meet our PM today. Details are being worked out.”
The National Security Advisers of India and Pakistan met on December six in Bangkok. The development surprised many and it was announced with a joint press release only after the meeting was over. India’s Ministry of External Affairs at the time said the advisers discussed “peace and security, terrorism, Jammu and Kashmir, and other issues, including tranquility along the LoC (Line of Control).”
India and Pakistan broke the logjam in their ties and announced during Swaraj’s visit to Islamabad a couple of days after the meet of their NSAs that they have decided to engage in a “comprehensive” dialogue that will include peace and security and Jammu and Kashmir.
Foreign Secretaries of the two countries are also likely to meet in Islamabad next month.