Modi, Sharif shake hands; meet at SAARC retreat
Kathmandu: A warm handshake and a brief conversation between a smiling Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif replacing their cold vibes brought cheer to SAARC Summit which concluded today.
Modi put his hand on Sharif's arm as the two leaders looked at cameras with a long handshake even as they exchanged a few sentences. Loud applause greeted this apparent thaw which was in contrast to the two leaders ignoring each other yesterday.
The brief Modi-Sharif bonhomie was summed up by a tweet by the Indian spokesman Syed Akbaruddin, “the photo all were waiting for”.
This was the second time during the day that the two leaders had shaken hands and exchanged pleasantries, the first occasion being the retreat just outside the Nepalese capital. Earlier, Modi also clapped before and after Sharif's vote of thanks as the host for the next SAARC Summit in Islamabad next year.
As in the past SAARC Summits, the chemistry between Indian and Pakistani leaders grabbed much attention at this 18th conclave of the eight South Asian nations. At the opening session yesterday, Modi and Sharif had ignored each other leading to a guessing game of whether they would meet even briefly.
The relief on the faces of the host Prime Minister Sushil Koirala, other leaders and delegates was palpable as they all clapped when Modi and Sharif vigorously shook hands. That also marked a positive point for the Summit which achieved little else.
Lack of warmth between the two Prime Ministers at the SAARC is reflective of the sudden downslide in Indo-Pak ties after Sharif had attended Modi's swearing-in ceremony as did most of the SAARC leaders in May this year. Consultations held by Pakistan High Commissioner in New Delhi with Kashmiri separatists led to the cancellation by India of Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh's visit to Islamabad in September. Since then both countries have maintained that they are willing to engage in a meaningful dialogue provided the other side takes the initiative.
Ahead of SAARC, Pakistan did not help matters with Sharif insisting that he would consult Kashmiri leaders again before any dialogue with India and maintained that the “ball is in India's court” since it had unilaterally cancelled the talks.
Modi had structured bilateral meetings with all SAARC heads of governments and states except Sharif on the sidelines of the 18th South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation Summit.