India and Pakistan not against talks, but PMs refuse to say hello

  • Modi and Sherif do not even shake hand at SAARC summit
  • Sherif not likely to sign many agreements
  • SAARC retreat can be a venue for talks

P Ravi

Kathmandu, November 27: It may have been a quirk of fate that the premiers of India and Pakistan were at SAARC meeting on November 26, a day that will forever be in the minds of Indians, courtesy the 26/11 terror attack on Mumbai. Evidently, Modi referred to the tragic day and said, “As we remember the horror of the terror attack in Mumbai in 2008, we feel the endless pain of lost lives.” He further called upon the SSARC leaders to work together and fulfil the pledge they have taken to combat terrorism and transnational crimes. Even though Modi did not refer to the slow pace of trail in Pakistan, the undercurrent of animosity was there as the two leaders refused to as much as greet each other.

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On Wednesday, Modi and Sharif were seated two seats apart at the summit sharing the stage for four hours, yet there were no handshakes, not even a nod of acknowledgement. The two leaders ignored each other and as Sherif was invited to talk, Modi chose to read a newspaper supplement, which he continued to do and did not even clap towards the end. Sherif said that the SAARC countries should stop fighting each other and instead fight poverty. Anyway a handshake would hardly matter; what is hoped is a fruitful dialogue, which does not seem to materialise.

Pakistan is likely to clear the energy cooperation draft agreement at the SAARC summit, it may not back the other milestone agreements like the motor vehicles agreement and railway linkages pact and said they needed time, quoting internal preparations.

The leaders are headed to the retreat where it is hoped that some agreement will materialise, Pakistan’s Foreign Affairs Advisor Sartaj Aziz too did not leave out the possibility. “There is still one more day at the summit. A lot can happen,” he expressed hope. However he seemed to have dismissed a chance of the two leaders meeting formally.

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Earlier, talking to press, Aziz expressed regret that the momentum initiated during Sherif’s visit to New Delhi was not maintained by India. Pakistan expressed its “displeasure” over the “unilateral cancellation” of foreign secretary-level talks and said it was always ready for dialogue, but wanted India to take the initiative, as it was the one who called off the scheduled talks (DAWN). Pakistan PM had already said, before leaving for Kathmandu that the ball was now in India’s court for resumption of talks. The response had come after Ministry for External Affair’s announcement that Modi will meet all SAARC leaders, categorically excluding Pakistan.

On the last day of the conference, on Thursday, India and Pakistan will have some time to have the awaited meeting, if they really wish so. They are expected to be at a retreat in Dhulikhel, nearly 30 km from Kathmandu, for about 5 hours and then they will be back for the concluding session of the summit. Modi leaves Kathmandu at about 9 pm.

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MEA Spokesperson, Syed Akbaruddin said that the other leaders spoke to PM Modi as they were worried that the situation rift will not augur well for SAARC, if the agreements don’t go through. He also reiterated that India is not against the talks. The last meeting at Addu also saw many agreements signed and if the aforesaid ones are not signed this time, 18th SAARC will be deemed a failure.

In an answer to a query that a meeting could have quickened the pace of the Mumbai terror attacks trail in Pakistan, he said that if it were the case, it would have happened by now.

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