Bengaluru: Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's ultimate birthday gift was the arrival at his doorstep of the man he has long wooed — Indian prime minister Narendra Modi. But the icing on the birthday cake will be the next — and a more planned interaction — when Nawaz Sharif arrives in New Delhi in January for his second, and far more “actionable” visit, since Modi became prime minister.
Sources close to the Pakistani leader told Deccan Chronicle that this was the "iron-clad" assurance that Mr Sharif reportedly gave the Indian leader during the 90 minute closed door meeting at the Pakistani premier's home on his sprawling Raiwind estate on the outskirts of Lahore where only family members were present. The source said the January visit was something the leaders agreed on.
Fully aware that without the support of the Congress and other opposition leaders, ties with Pakistan will be mired in controversy, Mr Sharif's close advisers said that he wants to appeal to all political leaders in India, particularly Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi, to support the peace initiative, just as she had done when former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee put the Lahore process in motion.
The advisers were also quick to scoff at reports of an Indian businessman being the backchannel, saying that Mr Sajjan Jindal was in Lahore to attend the mehendi and wedding of Mr Sharif's grand-daughter Mehrunissa Safdar to a Lahore businessman, set for Saturday. Mehrunissa is Mr Sharif's daughter Maryam's daughter. "Both Mr Sharif and Mr Modi are clear that economic ties are extremely important, and at one point, there will be forward movement on that front," the aide said. "Mr. Sharif is fully committed to implementing the Non-Discriminatory Market Access that he wants for India and Pakistan. But first we have to build trust and confidence on both sides."
Driving that will probably be Mr Sharif's business savvy sons Hussein and Hassan Nawaz who oversee the sugar and power conglomerate that powers the Sharif industrial empire, and who are exploring a tie-up with sugar processing energy producing companies in Karnataka. Mr Modi was said to have been alone with the two young Sharifs for a few minutes.
On the cross-border LOC attacks, which marred ties in the past few months, the aides said these are seasonal, and will not recur till the snows melt in the spring of next year, they added. "We have a window of opportunity," they said.
Insiders also indicated that as impromptu as the visit may seem, the two men were being pushed to talk - along with the third leader in the triangular relationship, the Afghan president Ashraf Ghani - by the United States, Europe and China, which are facing the brunt of the terror blowback.
On the criticism that no political or Foreign Ministry officials were present - especially not Pakistan's new National Security Adviser Lt. Gen. (retd) Nasir Khan Janjua - and that PM Modi was "helicoptered" to Raiwind instead of Islamabad or Lahore, the Pakistan premier's aides said that this was "a gesture from the heart," and "not an official visit."
Unconfirmed reports indicate however that the birthday stopover had been in the works since Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj had visited Islamabad on December 8, Pakistan's opposition leaders in the PPP said the single biggest signal that the meeting sent out was that "your prime minister is telling the world he is no longer a hawk on Pakistan." Modi, a dove on Pakistan?
Tête-à-tête over Kashmiri chai
Nawaz Sharif hugged Modi after he landed at the airport in the eastern city of Lahore and the two left by helicopter for Sharif's nearby family estate. "So, you have finally come," Sharif told Modi, according to a Pakistani foreign ministry official who was at the meeting. "Yes, absolutely. I am here," Modi replied, according to the official.
Modi phoned Sharif earlier in the day to wish him on his birthday and asked if he could make a stop in Pakistan on his way home, Pakistan's top diplomat, Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhry, told reporters. "And the PM said to him, 'Please come, you are our guest, please come and have tea with me'," he said.
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