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Can Modi's Unprecedented 'Bigstop' In Lahore Be Turning Point In Indo-Pak Relations

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| December 25 , 2015 , 13:44 IST
[caption id="attachment_164479" align="aligncenter" width="700"](Photo courtesy: MEA) (Photo courtesy: MEA)[/caption] In a major surprise, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday flew to Lahore, his first touchdown in Pakistan, where he met his counterpart Nawaz Sharif. After Sharif and Modi hugged at the Allama Iqbal International Airport as he landed in an Indian Air Force plane, the two took a helicopter to Sharif's residence at Raiwind, about 40 km from here, officials here said. The announcement came from Modi himself in a tweet as he prepared to wind up his brief visit to Afghanistan. "Looking forward to meeting PM Nawaz Sharif in Lahore today afternoon, where I will drop by on my way back to Delhi," he tweeted. "Spoke to PM Nawaz Sharif & wished him on his birthday," Modi added in another tweet. Earlier this morning, the Prime Minister tweeted greetings to Sharif on his 66th birthday and wished him good health. "I wish the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mr Nawaz Sharif on his birthday and pray that he remains in wonderful health," tweeted Modi from Afghanistan where he landed in the wee hours while returning from Moscow. The announcement comes not long before PM made a veiled attack on Pakistan during a during a joint session of the Afghan Parliament, PM Modi while appeared to send a strong message to Pakistan, without naming the country said, "There are some who did not want us to be here. There were those who saw sinister design in our presence here... But we are here because you had faith in us". Geo TV reported that the visit "was not that surprising" as the Lahore Air Traffic Control had been told about it on Thursday. But few in India and Pakistan knew about the programme, which came at a time when bilateral relations have shown definite improvement after months of tensions and border clashes. Sharif and his brother and Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif were among those who received Modi at the airport with bouquets. Also present were Pakistan Finance Minister Ishaq Dar and the Indian envoy, T.C.A. Raghavan. After pleasantries and a guard of honour by the Pakistani Air Force for Modi, the two prime ministers boarded a helicopter and reached Sharif's ancestral residence at Raiwind for what could be a round of talks -- or more. Indian and Pakistani officials did not reveal the likely agenda. Analysts say that Modi's sudden announcement to greet Pakistani Counterpart personally and his first touch down in Pakistan is a 'form of backdoor diplomacy' that is going on between two hostile neighbours since they met in Ufa July this year. After Ufa, Indo-Pak talks hit another roadblock in August, when Pakistan invited Kashmir based Separatists to New Delhi for consultation, a move categorically denied by India. The confrontation between two countries over Hurriyat meeting finally led to suspension of NSA Talks. The two prime ministers later met in Paris on the sidelines of the Climate Change Summit on November 30. Their handshake and 15-minute chat was the lead in to talks between the National Security Advisors of the two countries. Those talks were also held secretly in Bangkok on December 6. Soon after NSA talks, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj flew to Islamabad to attend 'Heart of Asia' Conference and met Prime Minister Sharif and his advisor to foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz. "That's like a statesman. Padosi se aise hi rishte hone chahiyen (ties with neighbours should be like this)," tweeted Foreign Minister Susham Swaraj. While many saw Prime Minister's visit a new and positive approach to streamline ties with Pakistan, the opposition criticised him. "Our foreign policy is going from the sublime to the ridiculous. You can't do such things in such a cavalier manner...this is going to blow up in the PMs face," said former Union Minister Manish Tewari of the Congress.

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