Home >Politics >Policy >Narendra Modi-Nawaz Sharif meeting in Ufa sparks hopes of thaw in ties

New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi will hold bilateral talks with his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif for the first time in more than a year on Friday, on the sidelines of a regional summit in the Russian town of Ufa, sparking hopes of a thaw in relations.

Confirmation of the meeting came on Thursday from Indian foreign ministry spokesman Vikas Swarup. “It is confirmed. PM @narendramodi and PM Nawaz Sharif will have a bilateral meeting in Ufa tomorrow (Friday) at 9.15 am on the sidelines of the SCO summit," Swarup said in a post on Twitter.

Modi is in Ufa to attend the seventh summit of leaders from Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (Brics) as well as the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).

A statement from the Pakistani foreign office released by the Pakistani high commission in New Delhi also confirmed the meeting, saying, “Pakistan has responded positively to a suggestion from the other (Indian) side for a meeting between the two leaders" on the sidelines of the SCO summit.

Meanwhile, defence minister Manohar Parikkar was quoted by PTI as saying that cross-border terrorism had come down.

This will be the first bilateral meeting between the two leaders since 27 May 2014, when they met in New Delhi a day after Modi was sworn in as Prime Minister. Sharif was in New Delhi to attend the swearing-in ceremony at Modi’s invitation, along with leaders of other South Asian countries.

Both Modi and Sharif attended the UN General Assembly session in New York in September and the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) summit meet in Kathmandu in November, but did not meet bilaterally.

Official talks between the two nations, who have fought three of their four wars over Kashmir, have been stalled for more than two years. “I don’t expect any breakthroughs. I think India will raise basic issues such as the release of Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi (regarded as one of the main plotters of the 2008 Mumbai attack) and Pakistan’s refusal to ban the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD)," said former foreign secretary Lalit Mansingh.

India regards JuD as a front for the Pakistan-based Islamist militant group Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT). According to India, the 26-29 November 2008 Mumbai attack was carried out by 10 militants belonging to the LeT and the group’s head, Hafiz Saeed, is its principal mastermind.

India has been demanding that the plotters of the attack be brought to justice and the group, including the JuD be banned—something Pakistan has not delivered on so far.

“I think Prime Minister Modi’s efforts will be to reiterate India’s stand and make clear that there are certain conditions required to make dialogue productive," Mansingh said. “It will be talks about talks. Given that the meeting is happening at the initiative of India, the message going out (to the world) is that India is not averse to talks but wants Pakistan to keep its word on curbing terrorism. If Pakistan continues to promote terrorism, then the conversation is not going to be useful," he said.

Hopes of a bilateral interaction between the two grew after Modi telephoned Sharif, Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to greet them just before the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramzan last month. The phone call to Sharif followed Indian foreign minister Sushma Swaraj saying on 31 May that there will be no talks with Pakistan till the so-called red lines drawn by India for talks between the two are respected by Pakistan.

She recalled that Modi had discussed these red lines with Sharif during his India visit, when Modi told Sharif that India was ready to resolve all outstanding issues in a peaceful manner, that the talks should be between the two nations—without a third country’s mediation—and that they should be held in an environment of peace.

After the Sharif-Modi meeting in New Delhi, the Indian government planned to send its foreign secretary to Pakistan on 25 August to discuss the resumption of peace talks.

But the visit was called off after Pakistan’s high commissioner to India invited Kashmiri separatists for consultations before the foreign secretaries met. India saw this as a violation of the understanding reached during the Sharif-Modi exchange.

In March, Modi had despatched foreign secretary S. Jaishankar to Pakistan along with other South Asian countries. Although the declared aim was to boost ties with all South Asian neighbours given Modi’s ‘neighbourhood-first’ foreign policy approach, analysts in New Delhi saw the move as an attempt by the Modi government to restart the peace process with Pakistan. But Pakistan’s release of Lakhvi in April put paid to that effort.

Meanwhile, Modi met Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Thursday—the first interaction at this level between India and Iran since Modi’s government took office last May.

“Advancing a significant partnershp. PM @narendramodi meets President @HassanRouhani on sidelines of BRICS/SCO summits," said a Twitter post by Swarup. Modi’s office in a tweet said: “India-Iran friendship discussed at the meeting between PM @narendramodi and President of Iran, @HassanRouhani."

In May, Modi had written a letter to Rouhani that was handed over by road transport and highways minister Nitin Gadkari. Rouhani had then hailed the friendly and historical ties between the two nations.

During the visit, Gadkari had signed an agreement with Iran the development of the strategically important Chabahar port, which will give India a sea-land access route to Afghanistan, bypassing Pakistan.

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