Modi Gives Sharif A Birthday Surprise, Visits Pakistan For The First Time

25/12/2015 5:10 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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NEW DELHI -- On a busy Christmas Day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Lahore to meet Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif after concluding his one-day trip to Afghanistan.

Modi visited Pakistan for the first time today. This is also the first time an Indian prime minister has visited Pakistan in over a decade. Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee visited the country in 2004.

Modi was received at the Lahore airport at around 5:00 pm by Sharif, who celebrated his birthday today, and is gearing up for his granddaughter Meherun Nisa's wedding. The leaders of two rival nations warmly hugged and then left in a chopper for Raiwind Palace, Sharif's ancestral house, where wedding preparations are afoot.

The prime minister announced his surprise visit on Twitter shortly after giving an emotionally-charged speech in the Afghan Parliament.

The casualness of Modi's announcement contradicted the immense significance of this visit. It also caught the media and political analysts in both countries completely off guard. While some believe the nonchalant tweet was only a cover for a meeting long in the planning, others said that it could have actually been a spontaneous decision on Modi's part.

"Spoke to PM Nawaz Sharif & wished him on his birthday," Modi tweeted. "Looking forward to meeting PM Nawaz Sharif in Lahore today afternoon, where I will drop by on my way back to Delhi."

Shortly after Modi's headed back to New Delhi at around 7:00 pm , Pakistan's Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhry said that both leaders agreed on taking the Indo-Pak dialogue forward and work to improve lives of people in both nations.

Pakistan "welcomed" Modi's decision to visit Lahore, said Chaudhry.

READ: Modi To Afghanis: Yaari Hai Iman Mera, Yaar Meri Zindagi

Under attack from the opposition for its hardline stand against Pakistan following a series of border skirmishes and its interaction with Kashmiri separatists, the Modi government has tried to ease tensions, this month.

Modi also received flak for Bharatiya Janata Party President Amit Shah's remark about celebrations in Pakistan if the BJP lost the Bihar Election, which was widely regarded to be in very poor taste and communally divisive.

Two months after Shah's remark, there was an icebreaker moment between Modi and Sharif at the climate change talks in Paris. Then, came the National Security Adviser level talks in Bangkok followed by Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj's trip to Islamabad for a discussion on Afghanistan during the annual Heart of Asia conference.

“A new beginning has been made in the form of the agreement of the two countries on a new bilateral comprehensive dialogue to address all outstanding issues between them through peaceful means,” she told lawmakers, last week.

Today, Swaraj called Modi "a statesman."

On Friday, the Congress Party dismissed Modi's visit to Pakistan as "a joke" and an attempt to "grab headlines."

"He wants the world to think of him as a statesman," Congress Party leader Anand Sharma told reporters. "But diplomatic talks are grave, not a joke. National interest has to come before personal interest."

The Communist Party of India welcomed Modi's surprise visit.

"There have been many strains in our relationship. The ice was finally broken by the NSA-level talks and the visit of External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj to Pakistan. Now that process is being followed up by Modi's visit," said CPI National Secretary D Raja.

Omar Abdullah, former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir State, said that "re-engagement with Pakistan is a good step and a very welcome development. However more than grand gestures we need consistency."

On Friday afternoon, Modi tweeted:

Modi left Sharif's residence around 7:00 pm and then headed to the airport in Lahore for his trip back to New Delhi.

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