3 minutes that changed India-Pak. ties

The Hindu brings you the story of what really happened in Paris where the two PMs met.

December 26, 2015 12:01 am | Updated November 17, 2021 04:40 am IST - NEW DELHI:

Prime Minister Narendra Modi being greeted by his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif in Lahore on Friday.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi being greeted by his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif in Lahore on Friday.

When Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif > met in Paris less than a month ago, few could imagine that the outcome of talks — that lasted less than three minutes — would lead to the historic developments that have followed.

So what exactly did the Prime Ministers speak about, as they sat together on the sofa of a waiting lounge on the sidelines of the climate change summit? The Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson referred to it as a ‘courtesy meeting’ at the time, but sources have confirmed to The Hindu that each second of the conversation between Mr. Modi and Mr. Sharif > was spent on how to resume the dialogue process.

“PM Modi came up to PM Sharif with the words, ‘It is time to start talking again’, after which PM Sharif suggested they sit down and talk,” an official present at the meeting said. Mr. Sharif is understood to have replied that he too wanted to restart dialogue, but that talks were blocked by the failure of the National Security Advisors (NSAs) to meet in Delhi, and that talks must be held on “all issues and without pre-conditions”.

Mr. Modi reportedly agreed to including all issues, including Jammu and Kashmir in the list, which had been omitted in the Ufa statement, and suggested sending the Foreign Secretaries to the meeting as well. “That was it, and the rest is history” a senior Pakistani official said, corroborating the reported version.

Success at Bangkok

At least one official told The Hindu that the subject of sending Ms. Swaraj to Islamabad for the Heart of Asia conference was also discussed, as Pakistan had sent an invitation to India . A few days later, the officials tasked with the meeting got on the telephone to try and find both a venue and date where they could meet. It was agreed immediately that they would have to meet outside the country. According to one official, all four men —NSAs Doval and Gen. Janjua as well as Foreign Secretaries Jaishankar and Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhury — were travelling at the time, and Bangkok seemed to be the one city at the centre of the grid. “Besides, we didn’t need visas to travel there, which made a big difference,” another official added.

The > talks in Bangkok , were by all accounts “substantive”, with the first talks between NSAs with their security backgrounds: one a newly retired Pakistani army general, the other, a former spychief, who had served undercover in Pakistan.

After briefly referring to the much-touted dossiers on terror that both sides had brought to the meeting, the NSAs dispensed with them and began talks on how to go forward on the 26/11 trial and other issues.

When asked what the public reaction to the talks in India would be when they were made public, Mr. Doval reportedly said, “We expected a strong reaction when PM Modi met PM Sharif in Paris, but were surprised that except for a few opposition leaders, they were welcomed by most.”

Officials also say that the secrecy around the reachout to Pakistan was necessary. In fact, officials on both sides have confirmed that India reached out to Pakistan four times earlier for a meeting between the Prime Ministers in 2015, including the telephone call by Mr. Modi to Mr. Sharif in January after a long period of no-talks, the visit by Mr. Jaishankar to Pakistan under the SAARC agenda, the meeting in Ufa, for which the Indian side initiated the request, a request for a meeting in New York, which Pakistan rejected, and the brief meeting in Paris, which was choreographed by the Indian side, which ultimately led to a month of breakthroughs in ties.

“Seen in this respect, the cancellation of NSA talks this year were an aberration, not the rule in PM Modi's Pakistan policy,” a senior official, who has been closely associated with framing the policy, explained to The Hindu. “Had we announced the meetings before they happened, however, they would have collapsed like the NSA talks did.”

Earlier this month, speaking to The Hindu , Mr. Sharif confirmed that belief. “There is no secrecy,” he said at the opening of the TAPI pipeline project in Turkmenistan, “If we didnt announce them, it was by way of abundant precaution.”

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