Saarc: PM Modi, Sharif maintain distance; no prospect of 'structured meeting'

  • HT Correspondent and Agencies, Hindustan Times, Kathmandu
  • Updated: Nov 26, 2014 20:46 IST

India said Wednesday it had no plans for a formal meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif, amid speculation over whether the two will hold talks on the sidelines of the 18th Saarc summit in Nepal.

"We don't have any plan for a structured meeting between our Prime Minister and the Pakistani Prime Minister simply because we have not received a request to that extent," ministry of external affairs spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with other South Asian leaders at the inaugural session of the 18th Saarc summit in Kathmandu on Wednesday. (Photo courtesy: MEA)

India had stressed in the past that it was open to dialogue with Pakistan only if the neighbour country took the first step. Sharif had said Tuesday that "ball is now India's court for talks between both the countries".

India maintained that it was for "meaningful dialogue" which involves specifics.

"We have been shouting from the top of the roof that we are ready for meaningful dialogue. The emphasis was on meaningful. The meaningful dialogue has a meaning in diplomacy. In Pakistan, they know it very clearly what we mean by meaningful dialogue as they know us and understand us. They know everything," Akbaruddin said, when asked about Sharif's remarks.

Akbaruddin added Prime Minister Modi will have a series of bilateral meetings where he will discuss substantive issues with the Saarc leaders.

"These will be substantive meetings and we will share with you outcomes of these meetings," he added, even as Modi's official itinerary did not mention any meeting with Sharif.

India-Pakistan ties had shown signs of improvement following Modi's ascent to power -- with Sharif attending the Indian Prime Minister's swearing-in ceremony in May.

But, India suspended foreign secretary-level talks after the Pakistan envoy met Kashmiri separatists.

Interestingly, both Modi and Sharif stressed cooperation in their speech at the Saarc summit.

Recalling the horror of the Mumbai attack in 2008, Modi urged South Asian countries to work and combat terrorism together.

Sharif, on the other hand, batted for a dispute-free South Asia. He stressed a joint fight by Saarc member nations against social vices.

Even though they shared the dais, there was no exchange of courtesies between Modi and Sharif at the summit -- leave alone a handshake.

Modi and Sharif, who were sitting two seats away from each other, did not look at each other. Leaders of Maldives and Nepal were seated between them.

Though there was no "structured" meeting scheduled, a brief exchange of pleasantries was expected by many.

Analysts say little can be achieved while India's bitter rivalry with Pakistan persists, even as the former is seeking to boost trade and reinvigorate ties in its backyard at the Saarc summit.

But the mistrust between the nuclear-armed neighbours -- widely seen as the main obstacle to greater South Asian integration -- is unlikely to be resolved so easily.

The region's first summit in three years follows some of the worst cross-border violence in the disputed region of Kashmir in a decade, and comes as Nato-led troops prepare to pull out of Afghanistan, intensifying the India-Pakistan rivalry for influence there.

Meanwhile, in what is being seen as another setback to the ties, Pakistan stalled Wednesday the inking of Saarc connectivity agreements , including motor vehicle pact, saying it was yet to complete its "internal process".

Pakistan's blocking created "disappointment" among the Indian side, which had initiated these proposals, PTI reported.

(With PTI and AFP inputs)

Watch:Modi, Sharif ignore each other

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