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Saturday, Dec 14, 2019

Modi-Sharif meet in Astana a pit stop in the rough ride that India-Pak ties are

Prime Minister Narendra Modi greets Pakistan counterpart Nawaz Sharif as two leaders attend the Shangahi Cooperation Organisation summit in Astana.

india Updated: Jun 09, 2017 11:16 IST
Jayanth Jacob
Jayanth Jacob
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday in Astana on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday in Astana on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit.(PTI photo)

Nothing happens until it has happened. The axiom best captures the rollercoaster that India-Pakistan ties are.

Going against the script yet again, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday had a pull-aside with his Pakistan counterpart Nawaz Sharif on the sidelines of the annual Shangahi Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit in Astana on Thursday. It was more than an exchange of pleasantries, sources said. Modi inquired about Sharif’s health. The Pakistan premier had a heart surgery on May 31, 2016 and had called Modi ahead of the procedure in a hospital in the UK.

“My best wishes to PM Nawaz Sharif Sahab for his open heart surgery on Tuesday. And for his speedy recovery & good health,” Modi had then tweeted.

The meeting in the Kazak capital was their first after the surgery and year of worsening bilateral ties.

Modi also inquired after Sharif’s mother and family when he spoke to the Pakistani leader moments before the customary SCO concert.

There couldn’t have been a better setting and timing for the ice-breaker even though a meaningful dialogue is some distance away.

India and Pakistan will on Friday be admitted to the SCO, a Eurasian alliance which aims for greater security and military cooperation among member countries. The two squabbling neighbours, with a great deal of mutual mistrust, would struggle to work together unless they keep bilateral hostilities under check.

No script

Going against the script is nothing unusual in India-Pakistan ties fraught with uncertainties even at the best of times.

Sharif became the first Pakistani PM to attend the swearing -in of an Indian counterpart when Modi invited him and other South Asian leaders to Delhi in May 2014.

Modi took everyone by surprise when he made an unannounced stopover at the Lahore residence of Sharif on December 25, 2015 on way back from Kabul.

The Christmas visit came a few days after the two leaders had a brief unplanned meeting on November 30 on the sidelines of the 21st UN Climate Change Conference in Paris.

The encounter set the stage for two national security advisers to meet in Bangkok on December 6, 2015. The meeting was kept a secret till it was done.

A joint press release announced the meeting between Indian NSA Ajit Doval and his Pakistani counterpart Lt Gen (retired) Nasir Khan Janjua and foreign secretaries S Jaishankar and Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhury. The discussions covered “peace and security, terrorism, Jammu and Kashmir, and other issues, including tranquility along the LoC”, the ministry of external affairs said.

But then came a series of terror strikes starting with the audacious attack on the Pathankot airbase in January 2016, a week after Modi’s Lahore surprise, and ties were in a free fall again.

In the March of the same year, Pakistan announced the arrest of former Indian naval officer Kulbushan Jadhav on charges of spying. A military court on April 10, 2017 sentenced him to death, vitiating the atmosphere further. India turned to International Court of Justice after 18 years to save Jadhav.

And nothing captures the complexity of India-Pakistan ties better than Jadhav’s case.

As the prime ministers met in Astana, the two sides were taking on each other again at the ICJ, with Pakistan pushing for an earlier hearing.

The ICJ has put Jadhav’s death sentence on hold but Pakistan says it a security issue, something the world court can’t decide on.

Modi, sources say, believes undermining the civilian leadership is not the right way to address bilateral problems though the Pakistan army calls the shots when it comes to the ties with India.

Truly, there is no ready script when it comes to the two south Asian neighbours.