With two unannounced stops, in Kabul and Lahore on Christmas day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi rewrote the recent history of geo-politics in the region on Friday.
While his travel to Kabul on the way back from Moscow was widely anticipated and had been reported by The Hindu earlier this week, his stopover in Pakistan, the first by an Indian Prime Minister in 11 years, caught everyone, including senior officials, by surprise. Officials in Delhi and Islamabad told The Hindu that Mr. Modi had telephoned his Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif from Kabul to wish him on his birthday, and during the call, made plans to travel to Lahore to wish him personally a few hours later.
In a tweet, Mr. Modi wrote: “Looking forward to meeting PM Nawaz Sharif in Lahore today afternoon, where I will drop by on my way back to Delhi.”
After he landed, Mr. Modi and Mr. Sharif, who embraced each other warmly on the tarmac, proceeded to board a Pakistani helicopter together to reach Raiwind, where celebrations for Mr. Sharif’s grand-daughter’s wedding were under way. It is learnt that officials were taken by surprise by Mr Modi’s decsion, including India’s High Commissioner to Pakistan T.C.A. Raghavan, who drove to Mr. Sharif’s residence in Raiwind, just outside Lahore, directly from Islamabad, making it just in time for Mr. Modi’s landing.
The Prime Ministers then discussed bilateral relations, particularly on how to improve people-to-people ties and also the upcoming talks between the Foreign Secretaries for more than an hour. Briefing the media, Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhury described Mr. Modi’s visit as a “goodwill gesture”.
‘Imaginative diplomacy’ “PM Sharif welcomed PM Modi and said it is important that the two countries seize the moment and build a prosperous future. The talks process must be taken forward, so we can see a resolution to our problems so that the two countries can tackle the challenges of poverty together,” Mr. Chaudhury said. In India, BJP spokesperson M.J. Akbar called the meeting an example of “imaginative diplomacy.”
Mr. Modi’s visit to Lahore drew comparisons with Atal Behari Vajpayee’s visit in 1999, with many analysts pointing out that the warm bonhomie of the time had been shattered by the Kargil war that followed.
“The involvement of Gen. (retd.) Janjua shows that unlike in the case of Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s 1999 visit to Lahore which could not succeed owing to the non-involvement of the powerful military lobby of Pakistan, Mr. Modi and Mr. Sharif have taken Gen. Janjua on board to send a positive signal to the Pakistan military establishment,” senior journalist Vijay Naik told The Hindu .
‘A good example of summit diplomacy’
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s surprise stop-over at Lahore, where he held and hour-long meeting with his counterpart Nawaz Sharif caught officials and political observers by surprise.
The former Pakistan Foreign Secretary, Salman Bashir, who also served as High Commissioner to India, said it was the Prime Minister’s personal appearance in Pakistan that was the most significant. “The meeting is a good example of summit diplomacy and both Prime Ministers should from now on steer the diplomatic talks,” he told The Hindu from Islamabad.
However, the long-time proponent of talks and Congress MP Mani Shankar Aiyar took his party’s line in criticising Mr. Modi for the visit, saying: “Issues like Pakistan’s involvement with terror masterminds like Tiger Memon, Dawood Ibrahim and cross-border terror remain unsolved. It is not in India’s interest to speak to Pakistan under international pressure. But for now we have to wait and watch what will be the outcome of the meeting between the two Foreign Secretaries in mid-January,” he said. The visit was also significant because Mr. Modi had flown into Pakistan directly from Kabul, where he had inaugurated the new Parliament building.
India’s presence in Afghanistan has always been viewed with suspicion, and the absence of any negative comments in Pakistan was significant.
During a speech in Parliament, President Ashraf Ghani thanked India for transferring four Mi25 attack helicopters.