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Why Modi-Sharif meet is a ray of hope for Indo-Pak ties

He came like a gentleman; he talked like a statesman; and he went back home without throwing barbs at India.

This is the story of Nawaz Sharif, the Pakistani Prime Minister, who conducted himself like a well-meaning neighbour during his just-concluded 30-hour-long working visit to India in exactly the manner New Delhi would have wanted from him; but something that rarely happens.

This is unprecedented. First Narendra Modi behaved like a statesman and invited Saarc leaders, including Nawaz Sharif, for his inauguration. Sharif responded in equal measure and did not try to score brownie points. Even better, from the Indian point of view, he did not seek to meet the Hurriyat separatists.

The Pakistani side had scheduled a press conference by Sharif in Taj Mansingh hotel where he was staying. But Sharif did not even hold the press conference. Instead, he just read out a statement and did not take any questions.

Nawaz Sharif and Narendra Modi ahead of the meet. AP

Nawaz Sharif and Narendra Modi ahead of the meet. AP

Even in this carefully worded statement, Sharif steered clear of contentious issues and said nothing that could have undone the statesmanship he and Modi had shown over the past two days. Sharif only talked of positive things and was forward-looking his tone and tenor.

Sample a few quotes of Sharif: "I conveyed to PM Modi that it was important for us to work together for peace. I urged that we had to strive to change confrontation to co operation. We hope our people overcome the legacy of mistrust and misgivings... I had a constructive meeting. It was held in a warm and cordial atmosphere. It should be historic opportunity for both our countries... I expressed to Modi that we have a common agenda of development that cannot be fulfilled without peace. PM Modi warmly reciprocated my sentiments and remarked that my visit to Delhi was seen as a special gesture by the people of India.”

India couldn’t have asked for anything better from Sharif. For its part, the Modi government too conducted itself in a responsible and restrained manner.

Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh, in her press conference shortly before Sharif read out his statement, declined to divulge anything about the specific points discussed between the two prime ministers on the terror issue, though she said Modi underlined Indian concerns relating to terrorism.

In her prepared opening statement, Sujatha Singh said: "It was conveyed that Pakistan must abide by its commitment to prevent its territory and territory under its control from being used for terrorism against India. We also expect that necessary steps will be taken in the Mumbai terror attack trial underway in Pakistan to ensure speedy progress of the case and the conviction of those responsible."

She also said that the two prime ministers agreed that the Foreign Secretaries will remain in touch and explore how to move forward. She pointed out that Modi said that the two countries could move immediately towards full trade normalisation on the basis of the September 2012 roadmap and that India-Pakistan relations would progress in the economic, cultural and political fields in the same manner that India’s relations with her other SAARC neighbours have progressed in recent years. Modi shared with Sharif his vision of a SAARC region built on partnerships for development and mutual prosperity, Sujatha Singh added.

The two prime ministers had “substantive” talks as characterised by the Indian foreign secretary. They clearly discussed all issues and each side flagged its own concerns and conveyed to the other side the expected deliverables.

But the very fact that the Pakistani premier’s India visit passed off without any acrimony or ugly spats is itself a big achievement. If the Pakistanis were careful in not saying unpleasant things or touching on the raw nerves, the Indian side too was very cautious and restrained in ensuring that Sharif’s goodwill visit is not spoiled.

Sujatha Singh was repeatedly asked questions about the terror issue and about what the two PMs discussed on the terror attack on Indian consulate in Herat, Afghanistan, but she refused to get into details for the sake of confidentiality of discussions between the two leaders.

What next?

It will be premature to say that the India-Pakistan peace process is back on track, though Sharif’s India visit is definitely a good beginning and has the potential of turning around the bilateral relations.

Both Modi and Sharif have come to power with a clear mandate and both have just begun their respective tenures. Modi has full five years while Sharif has four years left in his tenure. The two can carry forward the peace process but in Indo-Pak relations nothing can be said with certainty.

Everything will depend on the Pakistan army and how the Pakistani military leadership assesses Sharif’s India visit. Even if no formal statements emanate from Rawalpindi on this in the coming days, actions will speak louder than words.

Just one signal will reveal the Pakistani mindset in the coming days and weeks: whether unprovoked firing from the Pakistani side along the International Border and Line of Control stops or not.

The writer is a Firstpost columnist and a strategic analyst who tweets@Kishkindha.

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