India PM Modi makes surprise Pakistan visit

Stopover in Lahore on way back from Kabul marks first visit by an Indian prime minister to Pakistan in over a decade.

    Narendra Modi made a surprise stopover in Pakistan to meet his counterpart, Nawaz Sharif. It is the first time an Indian prime minister has visited the rival nation in more than a decade.

    Modi was on his way back to India after a visit to Russia and a stopover in the Afghanistan capital of Kabul earlier on Friday.

    The two leaders  held a brief conversation  at the climate change talks in Paris late last month, part of efforts to restart a peace dialogue plagued by attacks and long-standing distrust.

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    The two countries have fought three wars since independence from Britain in 1947, two of them over Kashmir.

    A ceasefire agreed in 2003 remains in place, but the neighbours often accuse each other of violating it.

    Modi had called up the Pakistani PM from Kabul, informing Sharif of his planned stopover in Lahore, according to Pakistani Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhry, who added that Kashmir, among other issues, was discussed in the meeting.

    Chaudhry added that the Indian Foreign Secretary, Subrahmanyan Jaishankar, would visit Islamabad next month to continue the dialogue. 

    Jaishankar was in Islamabad earlier this year for the first meeting with his Pakistani counterpart since New Delhi called off talks last year which had been aimed at easing the rivals' many disputes.

    "It was a spontaneous but bold and innovative decision to visit Pakistan," said Nalin Kohli, spokesperson for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.

    "The India-Pakistan story has many difficult issues lingering for decades. It is not an easy path ahead. But the two leaders are trying to establish a personal equation that can add momentum to the structured process of official talks in the future."

    Al Jazeera's Kamal Hyder, reporting from the Pakistan capital of Islamabad, said that relations between the two countries were at a low and Modi's visit was seen as a baby step towards improvements in ties.

    "Modi was flying back from Kabul so, behind the scenes in Lahore, they would've talked about Kabul, especially since the Pakistan army chief is due to visit Afghanistan in the next couple of days," Hyder said.

    "But while this visit is seen as a significant step in improvement of relations, several key issues still remain unresolved, including Kashmir and Indians insisting on a expeditious trial for the Mumbai suspects."

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    Earlier, opening the parliament building in Kabul, Modi pledged India's support for the Afghan government and urged regional powers, including Pakistan, to work together to foster peace.

    India is also supplying three Russian-made MI-35 helicopters to Afghanistan's small air force, adding the badly needed capacity to provide close air support to its hard-pressed security forces.

    ANALYSIS: Abbas Nasir , former editor of Pakistan's English language newspaper Dawn

    People have a right to be sceptical but the visit is a step in the right direction. We were in a situation that the two countries had not talked for months.

    Then suddenly they meet in Paris, and a few days later there were talks in Bangkok. Then the Indian foreign minister arrived in Islamabad. So Modi's visit has symbolic value, of course.

    Obviously nothing substantial will come out of it but it's great symbolism and it's great to see the two prime ministers smiling and walking together with hands clasped. It has great symbolic value.

    Abbas Nasir

    The meeting of foreign secretaries next month is nothing surprising.

    The interesting bit is that the diplomats are moving forward and the talks will be more in terms of foreign policy rather than concerns about terrorism. And that's quite important.

    The two countries share a huge border and have fought three wars, so it's substantial that they are talking.

    Kashmir has always been a core issue on the agenda.

    The push has come from India to put Kashmir on the backburner during talks between the two sides.

    But Pakistan chooses to make it a core issue.

    The civilian government would be happy to talk about developing trade and the like. But don't underestimate the say of the national security establishment in any talks.

    They won't let any civilian leader put Kashmir on the backburner and let talks progress without it.

    Modi's visit has been termed as a move in "the right direction" [AFP]

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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