NEW DELHI:Prime Minister Narendra Modi came face-to-face with his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif on Thursday evening at the dinner party threw by their Russian hosts, but it was just a teaser for the big meeting scheduled for Friday morning, their first formal talks in over a year.
Earlier in the day, spokesperson of the Union Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), Vikas Swarup, had tweeted, “It is confirmed. PM @narendramodi and PM Nawaz Sharif will have a bilateral meeting in Ufa tomorrow at 9.15 am on sidelines of SCO Summit.”
With that, days of speculation ended whether both leaders would have a formal meeting. At the same time, Pakistan Foreign Office said Islamabad had responded positively “to a suggestion from the other side” for a meeting. New Delhi was the first to reach out, formally requesting for a meeting on last Friday through the Indian Ambassador in Islamabad. This would be their first formal structured talks since Modi and Sharif sat down for talks in Hyderabad House in May last -- a day after the new government was sworn in. They had met during the SAARC Summit in Kathmandu, but it was more like an awkward chit-chat with a prolonged handshake at the end.
When Modi and Sharif encountered each other at the dinner hosted by President Vladimir Putin, both leaders exchanged pleasantries, as per sources. But, the tough talk would come on Friday.
After the May meeting, there was hopes of increased warmth in bilateral ties - but it was dashed when India cancelled the visit of then Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh after Pakistan High Commissioner met some Hurriyat leaders.
The escalation in cross-border firing and the threat of 26/11 mastermind Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi’s release kept up tensions. In between, there was some thaw when Modi called up Sharif after the Peshawar school attack to express sympathy and called for morning prayers in Indian schools. But, that was short-lived, with Lakhvi finally getting out of jail and Pakistan’s increasing rhetoric of “RAW hand” in various terror attacks.
Modi’s mention of Pakistan as the source of terrorism in Bangladesh led to a bizarre reaction from the Pakistan Foreign Office, which described the statement as confirmation of India’s interference in East Pakistan before the 1971 war. In another instance, the Myanmar operation by Indian special forces kept Pakistani ministers wagging their tongues -- the latest being of the Defence Minister saying that Islamabad was ready to use its nuclear bombs.