Kahamandu,nov. 27 : In an ice-breaking moment, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi shook hands with his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif, laughed and even slapped him laughingly on the arm while sharing a light moment at the concluding ceremony of the 18th Saarc Summit here Thursday.
In a photo-op that appeared to belie any misunderstanding or animosity between the two neighbours, Modi and Sharif kept their handshake for several seconds and chatted, smiling all the while. Modi and Sharif had shaken hands and interacted briefly during the retreat at the Dhulikhel earlier in the day.
The two had studiously ignored each other during the summit Wednesday, the sixth anniversary of the 2008 Mumbai terror attack that India has blamed on Pakistani elements. In a significant development, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif held informal talks during the 18th Saarc Summit retreat Thursday afternoon. Both sides maintained silence over the talks and did not divulge any details after the informal meeting.
The effect of the informal talks between Modi and Sharif was immediately reflected in the proposed agreements. The heads of state and government have agreed to sign the Saarc Framework Agreement on Energy Cooperation now and decided to sign two other agreements — relating to movement of motor vehicles and railways — within three months in a big face-saver for 18th Saarc Summit host Nepal in particular and the region as a whole.
Prime Minster Koirala pushed the leaders of the two South Asian neighbours to sit for talks, at least informally now, and break the logjam in the bilateral India-Pakistan relations. When the two leaders were talking, other heads of state and government were also there. The retreat is an informal gathering in Saarc summits, and is referred to as “beauty time”.
In his personal talks with Modi, Koirala asked the Indian prime minister to reach out to Pakistan given its stature as Saarc leader, and its size, population and economy. Though Modi and Sharif shook hands and talked briefly Wednesday, they had not interacted with each other at length. It was still not clear whether the two sides would hold delegation-level talks after the retreat got over Thursday afternoon.
The Saarc leaders, including Modi, Sharif and Koirala, cracked jokes, planted trees and shared personal trivia with each other.
After the retreat, the leaders have agreed to sign the Saarc Framework Agreement on Energy Cooperation which will be announced in the Kathmandu Declaration later Thursday. Because of the deadlock between India and Pakistan, the fate of three proposed agreements — related to motor vehicles, railways and energy and all pushed by New Delhi — was uncertain until Thursday.
After the retreat and unofficial talks among the leaders, the Saarc leaders have agreed to sign the energy deal now and agreed to complete the other two agreements within three months, Bhattarai said. Located in the neighbourhood of Kathmandu Valley, the Shangrila Resort in Dhulikhel is famous for its scenic beauty.
“While watching the Himalayas and taking herbal and organic food, Modi and Sharif were seen more open and close,” a diplomat said. “The focus was on how to carry on the Saarc process and how to strengthen bilateral ties.”