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SAARC summit: Narendra Modi, Nawaz Sharif shake hands, but no talks

KATHMANDU: After the cold vibes on Wednesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif shared some warmth on Thursday, as they shook hands and shared a laugh at the end of the 18th SAARC summit here.

After the summit got over, Modi was seen talking to Nepal Prime Minister Sushil Koirala, while Sharif was seen talking to Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Modi and Sharif then moved on to other leaders, meeting them and shaking hands, till they came face to face. As they shook hands and laughed, the other delegates, including SAARC foreign ministers, foreign secretaries and officials, applauded.

While there was no substantive talk or a meeting between the two leaders on Thursday, they did spend almost three hours in a “convivial” atmosphere at the Dhulikhel retreat along with the remaining six SAARC leaders.

They exchanged pleasantries at the Dhulikhel retreat, and were seen talking to each other in smaller groups. They were also seated at the same table for lunch. “Dhulikhel mein baat bhi hui, mulaqat bhi hui (They met and spoke in Dhulikhel),” said Syed Akbaruddin, the Ministry of External Affairs’ official spokesperson.

“India is for peaceful and cooperative relations with Pakistan. We are for meaningful dialogue. If this handshake leads to that, we welcome that,” he said. When asked to define “meaningful”, Akbaruddin said, “As diplomats, we are translucent. Our interlocutors (from Pakistan) know what we mean.”

Officials said the leaders were on their own at Dhulikhel, and nobody else was privy to their discussions. Modi spent a lot of time with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Bhutan President Tshering Tobgay.

Nepal government sources told The Indian Express that Koirala made an informal suggestion to Modi to take the lead and break the ice with Sharif. The Indian side said Koirala created an “enabling environment” at the retreat for the leaders to get together informally.

The SAARC foreign ministers and foreign secretaries were also present in Dhulikhel in separate groups. When asked if External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and her Pakistan counterpart Sartaj Aziz had any substantive discussion, the MEA spokesperson said, “There was no discussion of substantive nature at any level (with Pakistan).”Modi was also seen applauding before and after Sharif’s vote of thanks as the host for the next SAARC Summit in Islamabad next year. When asked if Modi would visit Pakistan when Islamabad hosts the SAARC summit in 2016, Akbaruddin said, “It is standard practice to host the summits in an alphabetical manner. And it is courtesy to applaud.”