When Prime Minister Narendra Modi met Pakistan counterpart Nawaz Sharif in one of the meeting rooms of the Congress Hall in Ufa last Friday, he told Sharif that if one asks people in India to name a stumbling block in normalising relations between the two countries, the majority say it’s the release from jail of 26/11 attack accused Zaki-ur Rehman Lakhvi.
Sources said Sharif, an elected politician unlike predecessor Pervez Musharraf, understood the importance of “public opinion” and agreed on the need to speed up the Mumbai terror attack trial in Pakistan.
And that’s how the Mumbai terror trial found mention in the statement, jointly drafted after the meeting of the two prime ministers. Talks between the NSAs, now likely to be held in a month’s time, was agreed upon by the two sides.
Sources said though Kashmir was not discussed in detail, the issue of the situation on the Line of Control was an “implicit” reference to it. “When the prime ministers discussed the boundary, they were not talking about Rajasthan and Punjab… it was clearly understood in reference to Kashmir,” a source said.
Modi and Sharif had at least three phone conversations in the last three months — over the evacuation from Yemen, Nepal earthquake and Ramzan. The last phone call set the ball rolling for the meeting in Ufa.
When they met at a dinner hosted by President Vladimir Putin on July 9, it was the first face-to-face after Kathmandu last November.
The next morning, the Indian side — they had sought a meeting on July 3 and had booked the meeting room no. 4 at the Congress Hall, the venue of the SCO summit — reached early and waited for Sharif. As a courtesy, Modi received the Pakistan delegation.
Sharif is learnt to have asked him about his Central Asia tour, since Modi had already been to Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan by then. “Accha to aap tour pe hain…Toh kaisa chal raha hai (So you are on a tour. How is it going?),” he asked Modi.
The conversation was on how integrated the European Union was, how Africa was coming together, and how even the Central Asian countries were connected. In this context, they discussed SAARC. The BBIN (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal) also came up. Modi and Sharif also discussed his visits to Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal.
After the initial ice-breaking conversation, they moved to more direct issues — the Indian Foreign Secretary’s visit to Islamabad in March during the course of his SAARC Yatra, issues confronting Indo-Pak relationship and why they were unable to move forward.
At this point, Modi put forth his position as an elected government — he is learnt to have told Sharif about what people in India think of Lakhvi’s release from a Pakistani jail. “That’s why you have to consider our case and do something about it,” he was quoted as having said.
Sharif understood the challenge an “adverse public opinion” could pose for the Modi government and agreed on the need to speed up the Mumbai terror attack trial in Pakistan.
In this context, both sides agreed to discuss ways and means to expedite the trial, including additional information like providing voice samples. And also set up the NSA-level dialogue on “all issues connected to terrorism”.
They then raised the issue of the tension on the border and Line of Control. “Why don’t we do something about it?” they said, adding that they should get the officials in-charge of the boundaries to talk to each other. They agreed that the armies should also talk to each other, and not just the BSF and Rangers. They agreed to schedule meetings between the DG BSF and DG Rangers, followed by the DGMOs.
Sharif, who thanked Modi for the release of Pakistani fishermen ahead of Ramzan, suggested that the two sides promote religious tourism — many from Pakistan go to Ajmer Sharif and want to visit other spots in India. Modi agreed, saying many from Punjab want to visit Pakistan for religious reasons, and it was a good idea to facilitate such pilgrimages.
As the conversation came to a close, one of them said, “Accha to press ko kya kahein (What do we tell the press?).” Modi suggested that the two Foreign Secretaries jointly draft a statement. Sharif agreed.
So after the 60-minute meeting, Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar and Pakistan counterpart Aizaz Ahsan Chaudhary sat on a sofa in a corridor of the Congress Hall and “jointly drafted” the statement. It took them nearly 30 minutes. As a result, Jaishankar missed the early part of Modi’s meeting with Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani.
After the meeting with Ghani, Jaishankar showed the joint statement to the Prime Minister and National Security Advisor Ajit K Doval.
It was read out by the two Foreign Secretaries — Chaudhary the first half, and Jaishankar the second half of the statement.
“It is the most considered, honest, accurate account, a reasonable summary, which captured the best sense of the meeting. It is not an Indian or a Pakistan statement, it was a jointly agreed statement,” a source said.