Narendra Modi meets the neighbours

Little small talk, and some tough messages, in the Prime Minister’s meetings with the South Asian leaders.

Updated - November 16, 2021 06:52 pm IST

Published - May 27, 2014 08:33 pm IST - NEW DELHI:

Prime Minister Narendra Modi spent much of his first day in office getting to know India’s neighbours, holding a series of unprecedented one-on-one meetings with regional leaders on Tuesday.

He handed out some unexpectedly tough messages for some of his visitors, offering few concessions to Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, and telling Sri Lanka’s President Mahinda Rajapaksa that India wants faster progress on autonomy for the country’s Tamil-majority provinces.

The Prime Minister, Foreign Secretary Sujata Singh told journalists, underlined India’s concerns to Mr. Sharif on terrorism, skirmishes on the Line of Control, and slow progress in the trial of 26/11 perpetrators.

He accepted Mr. Sharif’s invitation to visit Pakistan at a later date, but made no commitment on Pakistan’s call for resuming the stalled dialogue on all issues including Kashmir, agreeing only that the Foreign Secretaries of both countries would meet to see what could be done.

Later, Mr. Sharif told media that he used the meeting to call on both countries to “change from confrontation to cooperation”.  

He also told a Pakistani television station he had raised the India-Pakistan conflict over Kashmir, calling for a resolution that suited both countries, as well as the state’s residents.  

Maryam Nawaz Sharif, Mr. Sharif’s daughter, said on Twitter that Mr. Modi had described her father as a “man of peace.”

The Pakistan Prime Minister could face a hostile reception from hardliners back home: the Lashkar-e-Taiba had held out public threats to Mr. Sharif for visiting New Delhi, calling on him to buy a one-way ticket.

Mr. Modi’s meeting with Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan’s outgoing President, pointed out to the capacity of those hardliners to disrupt the relationship.  Mr. Karzai blamed the Lashkar-e-Taiba, the terrorist group responsible for the 26/11 strikes, for attacking India’s consulate in Herat last week, confirming information first reported in this newspaper. 

Sushant Sareen, a senior fellow at the Vivekananda International Foundation, said the meetings had helped Mr. Modi make his point clearly.   “Mr. Modi has shown he’s willing to talk, but has also drawn thick red lines on issues important to him”, Mr. Sareen added. “I also think we should give Mr. Sharif real credit for bucking the hardliners”, Mr. Sareen said.

Experts, however, also cautioned against expecting too much from the meeting.  “In one of his interviews, Mr. Modi said that as India grew stronger, its neighbours’ behaviour would change,” said Ajai Sahni, the Director of the Institute of Conflict Management in New Delhi.  “I think Mr. Modi understands that diplomacy only reflects the real balance of power between nations, and knows changing that is the real challenge before him,” Dr. Sahni said.

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