So close, yet so far: Modi, Sharif wave at each other but that’s it

  • United Nations, PTI
  • Updated: Sep 29, 2015 05:25 IST
World leaders during the 70th session General Debate of the United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters in New York. (EPA)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif waved at each other at the UN peacekeeping summit on Tuesday in a show of goodwill amid frosty bilateral relations.

Assembling for the summit hosted by US President Barack Obama, Modi walked into the conference hall first. Sharif followed a few minutes later and waved at Modi. The Indian Prime Minister waved back and smiled. Then there was a pause, after which Modi waved again, and Sharif acknowledged and smiled. The two leaders, who are in New York for UN summits, came across each other for the first time on Tuesday.

At the conference hall, they were seated across the horse-shoe-shaped table. On Modi’s side of the table were the UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and other leaders from France and Indonesia. On Sharif’s side were Obama, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and leaders from Rwanda and Ethiopia.

There was no other interaction or exchange of gesture between the two leaders. Since they reached the chamber just minutes before the summit was to begin, they took their seats and did not walk around the room to meet any other leaders present there.

Modi and Sharif were in the chamber for almost an hour and a half. The two leaders clapped at the end of each other’s speech. Modi left immediately after addressing the summit. Sharif left the summit about 10-15 minutes after him.

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Modi and Sharif are staying in the same hotel -- - the iconic Waldorf Astoria -- and the summit was the only platform where they were under one roof during their stay in the city for the UN General Assembly. Ahead of the UN meet, there were questions whether the two leaders will manage at least a handshake.

India-Pakistan ties are going through a phase of chill, especially after last month’s cancellation of NSA-level talks over differences in the agenda. The August 24 talks between Sartaj Aziz and his Indian counterpart Ajit Doval were cancelled after Pakistani high commissioner Abdul Basit invited Kashmiri separatists to a tea reception.

This was the second time the India-Pakistan dialogue process was derailed since Sharif attended Modi’s swearing-in-ceremony in May 2014. India called off foreign secretary-level talks in August last year after Basit met Hurriyat Conference leaders with Pakistan insisting that the separatists were “the true representatives of the Kashmiris”.

Modi and Sharif had a breakthrough meeting in the Russian city of Ufa three months ago when they decided on a way forward, but differing interpretations of the joint statement led to the NSA-level talks being cancelled. Also, repeated ceasefire violations along the LoC in Jammu and Kashmir have added to the tension between the two neighbours.

The Kashmir issue and terrorism came up at a meeting between Modi and Obama on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly on Tuesday.

“There was a broad acknowledgement that this is a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan and people were happy for India and Pakistan to resolve it among themselves,” external affairs ministry spokesperson Vikas Swarup said.

Swarup, while briefing on Modi’s meetings with Obama as well as UK PM David Cameron and French President Francois Hollande, said: “There was a discussion on Pakistan in one of the meetings in the context of terrorism, broadly the idea was if terrorism has to be fought then all countries have to be on the same page. You can’t have some countries talking of good and bad terrorists.”

India has been vocal against terrorism emanating from the Pakistani soil. India’s case was bolstered by the capture of Mohammed Naved, a Pakistani national and a LeT operative, who carried out an attack on a BSF bus near Udhampur in J-K in August.

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