Days after PM Modi congratulates him, Pakistan PM Sharif thanks him for the greeting

Though both sides exchanged perfunctory messages on social media, it is learnt that no letters have been exchanged yet, reflecting the current coldness in ties; U.S. says it would welcome India-Pakistan talks

Updated - March 07, 2024 10:59 pm IST

Published - March 07, 2024 10:33 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Pakistan PM Shehbaz Sharif. File

Pakistan PM Shehbaz Sharif. File | Photo Credit: AP

Pakistan’s newly-elected Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif thanked Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his greetings on social media on Thursday, even as the two countries showed no signs of any thaw in ties at present.

“Thank you [PM Modi] for felicitations on my election as the Prime Minister of Pakistan,” Mr. Sharif said, in response to PM Modi’s equally short message of “Congratulations to [PM Sharif] on being sworn in as the Prime Minister of Pakistan.”

Significantly, the messaging was welcomed by Washington on Wednesday, which said it would also welcome talks between the two countries. “The United States values its relationship with both India and Pakistan, and we want to see them have a productive and peaceful relationship,” said U.S. State Department spokesperson Mathew Miller at a regular briefing. “We would welcome productive and peaceful talks between India and Pakistan, but the pace, scope, and character of any dialogue is a matter for India and Pakistan to determine,” he added, when asked a specific question about talks on Jammu and Kashmir.

No letters yet

Mr. Modi’s message to Mr. Sharif on Tuesday was the government’s first statement since he came to power, and signalled India’s recognition of the Sharif government despite the controversial elections and allegations of rigging. However, officials and analysts on both sides pointed out that the greetings merely followed “protocol” and did not signify any added warmth in the public messaging between them from even a few years ago when Mr. Sharif was last sworn in.

It is understood that Mr. Modi’s message and Mr. Sharif’s responses were only exchanged over the social media platform X, and have not been accompanied so far by any letters being exchanged, as is the normal convention. 

In 2019, India and Pakistan expelled each other’s top diplomats, cancelled all trade ties, and closed virtually all exchanges other than religious pilgrimages from both sides. They have, however, continued to keep High Commissions staffed in both countries. In January, they exchanged assignment visas for a number of diplomats, with New Delhi issuing an agreement for the new Pakistani Charge d’Affaires Saad Warraich to take over in Delhi. Among Mr. Warraich’s first public engagements will be the Pakistan National Day reception to be hosted later this month.

Low expectations

Given the new Pakistan government’s preoccupations — including domestic turmoil over the elections that the Opposition Pakistan Tehreek e Insaaf, whose leader Imran Khan remains in prison, have bitterly contested — and the country’s economic troubles, as well as India’s upcoming election season, few expect ties to improve in the foreseeable future.

Over the past week, both countries exchanged sharp statements at the high-level segment of the 55th Regular Session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. India replied to Pakistan’s concerns about human rights in Kashmir by calling it a country “soaked in red, the red of the bloodshed from the terrorism it sponsors around the world”.  And even as Mr. Modi offered his Pakistani counterpart congratulations, India urged the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in Washington to ensure “stringent monitoring” of any emergency funds provided to Pakistan.

“Modi’s perfunctory congratulations to Shehbaz Sharif on his taking over as PM of Pakistan shows we don’t expect much from his govt,” former Foreign Secretary Kanwal Sibal wrote on X, adding that those hoping that any dialogue would follow would be “disappointed”.

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