Modi makes surprise trip to Pak
SYMBOLIC On way back from Afghanistan, PM stops over at Lahore, meets Nawaz Sharif on his birthday
ISLAMABAD/NEW DELHI: In a diplomatic coup, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a surprise visit to Lahore on Friday for a meeting with his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif that gave fresh impetus to the recently reset bilateral dialogue. Modi’s unscheduled visit marked the first time in 11 years that an Indian prime minister travelled to Pakistan and came after a year and a half of a roller-coaster ride in India-Pakistan ties.
Modi was received warmly by Sharif when he landed at the Allama Iqbal International Airport on Friday evening after a brief visit to Kabul where he inaugurated Afghanistan’s new parliament building. This was also Modi’s first visit to Pakistan.
Though it was dubbed an impromptu stopover by both sides, speculation remained rife that the visit was planned a week in advance but kept secret, a theory lent credence by the fact that Pakistan’s envoy to India Abdul Basit had been in Pakistan for the past two days. “Those who practise the art of diplomacy know some surprises are not really that,” a source said.
Indian steel magnate Sajjan Jindal, believed to have played a role in arranging a meeting between Modi and Sharif on the sidelines of a Saarc summit in Kathmandu last year, too was in Lahore on Friday.
Another source said planning was done to make the visit grand in symbolic terms as Friday was the birthday of both Sharif and former PM Atal Behari Vajpayee. Adding to the symbolism, the two
leaders travelled the 15 km between Lahore airport and Sharif ’s farmhouse in a helicopter.
“So, you have finally come,” Sharif told Modi, according to a Pakistani foreign ministry official who was at the meeting. “Yes, absolutely. I am here,” Modi replied, according to the official.
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PM Narendra Modi with his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif (left) in Lahore on Friday.