After the cold vibes on Wednesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif shared some warmth on Thursday, as they shook hands and shared a laugh at the end of the 18th SAARC summit.
After the summit got over, Modi was seen talking to Nepal Prime Minister Sushil Koirala, while Sharif was seen talking to Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Modi and Sharif then moved on to other leaders, meeting them and shaking hands, till they came face to face. As they shook hands and laughed, the other delegates, including SAARC foreign ministers, foreign secretaries and officials, applauded.
Also read: SAARC warmth, some Pak chill
While there was no substantive talk or a meeting between the two leaders on Thursday, they did spend almost three hours in a “convivial” atmosphere at the Dhulikhel retreat along with the remaining six SAARC leaders.
They exchanged pleasantries at the Dhulikhel retreat, and were seen talking to each other in smaller groups. They were also seated at the same table for lunch. “Dhulikhel mein baat bhi hui, mulaqat bhi hui (They met and spoke in Dhulikhel),” said Syed Akbaruddin, the Ministry of External Affairs’ official spokesperson.
“India is for peaceful and cooperative relations with Pakistan. We are for meaningful dialogue. If this handshake leads to that, we welcome that,” he said. When asked to define “meaningful”, Akbaruddin said, “As diplomats, we are translucent. Our interlocutors (from Pakistan) know what we mean.”
Officials said the leaders were on their own at Dhulikhel, and nobody else was privy to their discussions. Modi spent a lot of time with Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani and Bhutan Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay.
Also read: Sharif inks one pact, holds out on two
Nepal government sources told The Indian Express that Koirala made an informal suggestion to Modi to take the lead and break the ice with Sharif. The Indian side said Koirala created an “enabling environment” at the retreat for the leaders to get together informally.
“Today’s retreat in Dhulikhel remained another important occasion where we held informal discussions on important issues. Our discussions and deliberations were held in a very friendly and cordial atmosphere,” Koirala said at a press conference.
Asked about his role in attempts to end the chill between India and Pakistan, Koirala replied: “SAARC means a family. It is natural that hands and souls match here. It should happen and it is happening.”
The SAARC foreign ministers and foreign secretaries were also present in Dhulikhel in separate groups. When asked if External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and her Pakistan counterpart Sartaj Aziz had any substantive discussion, the MEA spokesperson said, “There was no discussion of substantive nature at any level (with Pakistan).”
Modi was also seen applauding before and after Sharif’s vote of thanks as the host for the next SAARC Summit (in Islamabad). When asked if Modi would visit Pakistan when Islamabad hosts the SAARC summit, Akbaruddin said, “It is standard practice to host the summits in an alphabetical manner. And it is courtesy to applaud.”
After the agreement on power grid connectivity was signed on Thursday, Akbaruddin said, “We go back satisfied, after the PM’s successful first SAARC summit.”