A surprise visit to Pakistan by Indian Premier Narendra Modi on Friday pressed the reset button on the blow-hot-blow-cold relationship between the two nuclear-armed neighbors, paving the way for official dialogue to resume next month.
On his way back from Afghanistan, Modi stopped over at Lahore for an unscheduled meeting with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, after a surprise announcement on Twitter that sent analysts on both sides of the border into a tizzy.
Modi tweeted good wishes for Sharif on his birthday and said he is “looking forward to meeting Nawaz Sharif in Lahore today afternoon, where I will drop by on my way back to Delhi.” The two leaders met for a little less than two hours at Sharif’s festively lit ancestral home in Lahore, where they talked about improving ties.
India’s NDTV 24x7 news channel called it “Modi’s masterstroke.” In Pakistan, the phrase “birthday diplomacy” trended. Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry said the leaders “expressed their desire to carry forward the dialogue process for the larger good of the people of the two countries.”
Modi arranged the visit at the last minute, said a Pakistani official. Modi phoned Sharif and asked if he could make a stop in Pakistan on his way home, Pakistani Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhry told media after Modi departed.
“And Sharif said to him, ‘Please come, you are our guest, please come and have tea with me’,” he said. Modi’s favorite dish ‘Saag’ was among other vegetarian delicacies prepared for him at Jati Umerah residence of Sharif.
“All dishes, including Saag, daal and vegetable food, were cooked in pure ghee,” a source said. He said Kashmiri tea was also served to Modi. Some 11 members of Modi’s delegation who were issued a 72-hour visa accompanied him. However, over 100 other members of the delegations stayed at the airport. There were refreshments at the airport for them.
Congress alleged the visit was made to promote private business interests. Congress spokesperson Anand Sharma attacked Modi’s engagement with Pakistan as “frivolous, unpredictable and full of abrupt U-turns” and asked what assurances he got on bringing back or punishing perpetrators of 26/11 Mumbai attacks, especially Zakiu Rehman Lakhvi, and on dismantling terror syndicates in Pakistan acting against India.”