NEW DELHI: On his first day in office, Prime Minister Narendra Modi met his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif to set the tone for neighbourly relations — pitching trade on top of the list, yet seeking action on terror, especially on the 26/11 attack trial, which will be the fulcrum to improve ties.
There was no misstep from Sharif on his unprecedented two-day trip to the Indian capital to attend Modi’s swearing-in ceremony.
The gamble from a prime minister seen as a hawk till May 16 due to his high-pitched election campaign paid off, with Sharif playing a graceful guest to a courteous host Modi by not mentioning Kashmir or having a customary meeting with separatist Hurriyat leaders. Sharif reached the stately Hyderabad House around 12.30 pm, where PM Modi greeted him with a long and firm handshake. Their discussion went on from 12.40 pm for about 45 minutes — spilling over from the scheduled duration of 35 minutes.
Modi was assisted by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, private secretary to the PM Nripendra Mishra, Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh and Indian ambassador to Pakistan TCA Raghavan.
“In the meeting with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan, the PM underlined our concerns relating to terrorism,” said Sujatha Singh.
“It was conveyed that Pakistan must abide by its commitment to prevent its territory and territory under its control from being used for terrorism against India. We also expect that necessary steps will be taken in the Mumbai terror attack trial underway in Pakistan to ensure speedy progress of the case and the conviction of those responsible,” she said.
The concrete decision from the discussion was that the two foreign secretaries “would remain in touch and explore how to move forward”. Sharif had however interpreted this as, “The two foreign secretaries would be meeting soon, to review and carry forward our bilateral agenda.”
Indian official sources were cagey and said the two foreign secretaries will meet soon, noting there were other methods of communication “to remain in touch”. Just like other foreign leaders, Sharif also invited Modi to Pakistan, which the latter accepted.
Stressing on business ties, Modi said the two countries “should move immediately towards full trade normalisation on the basis of the September 2012 roadmap”, referring to the issue of non-discriminatory market access — the politically correct nomenclature in Pakistan for most-favoured nation status. Summing up the Indian direction in the talks, foreign secretary said, “We want peaceful and friendly relations with Pakistan. However, for such relations to proceed, it is important that terror and violence brought to an end.”