Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif met on Thursday (June 8) after a gap of 17 months.
The brief meeting between the two leaders took place in Astana, as they arrived in Kazakhstan to attend the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation (SCO) Summit. The Indian and Pakistani media reported that PM Modi and Premier Sharif shook hands and exchanged greetings in the leaders’ lounge at the Opera House in Kazakh capital.
As it was the first occasion when they came across each other after PM Sharif’s surgery, the Indian PM enquired about his health and also about his mother and family. In May 2016, Modi made a phone call to Sharif just before the Pakistani leader was wheeled in for cardiac surgery in London. Modi telephoned Sharif again in July to wish him for Eid and a speedy recovery from surgery. In December 2015, the Indian premier visited Sharif’s residence in Lahore, as he made a sudden stopover in the Pakistani city on his way back to India from Afghanistan.
At a time when Indian, Pakistani and Chinese leaders are attending SCO Summit in Astana, the Pentagon has said that Beijing is trying to increase its influence in Asia with Islamabad’s help. In a report, the American Defence Department said that China plans to set up a military base in Pakistan. Senior Pentagon officials have explained that China’s move is aimed at strengthening its naval power. Otherwise, it will be difficult for the Asian giant to safeguard its interest in the Indian Ocean, the Mediterranean and also in the Atlantic Ocean. However, they believe that other Asian countries will never allow the People’s Liberation Army to set up bases on their soil.
The Pentagon report states that China is closely monitoring others’ activities in the Indian Ocean and its adjacent areas. “China continues to patrol the Indian Ocean with submarines. It is not only for the sake of China’s security, but also to increase its strength in the Indian Ocean,” says the report. According to defence experts, China also plans to set up a military base in Pakistan’s Gwadar port. That’s why Beijing is helping Islamabad develop the port city.
So, the Modi-Sharif handshake on the sidelines of SCO Summit in Astana should not be considered as a gesture of peace. Earlier on Monday, India denied any possibility of a meeting between PM Modi and Premier Sharif in Kazakhstan, with Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj saying: “No meeting is scheduled either from their side or from our side. Talks and terror cannot go together.”
Meanwhile, both India and Pakistan became members of the SCO, as the diplomatic games between the two South Asian neighbours and China were in full play in Kazakhstan on Friday.
Speaking at the summit, Chinese President Xi Jinping pushed for Beijing’s ‘One Belt One Road’ (OBOR) project, saying that the SCO might well serve as an “important platform” for the initiative. Later, Prime Minister Modi made India’s objections on OBOR clear, stressing that connectivity projects in the region should respect “territorial integrity and sovereignty” of other countries and maintain “inclusivity and sustainability”. In the presence of President Xi, Pakistani PM Sharif and UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, he said: “Connectivity with SCO countries is India’s priority, and we totally support it. For the success and approval of the connectivity initiatives and proposals, sovereignty and territorial integrity should be respected, and inclusivity and sustainability is essential.”
At the same time, the Indian premier urged SCO members to fight against terrorism. “Terrorism is one of the biggest violators of human rights and values. So, co-ordination between SCO countries is an important part of the fight against terrorism and extremism. I have full faith that India’s co-operation with SCO will give a new direction and energy in the fight against terrorism,” he told the audience.
Later, Modi met Xi at the Beijing Palace hotel in Astana to discuss various important bilateral, regional and global issues. Indian Foreign Secretary Dr Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said in a statement that the 40-minute meeting was “very positive and cordial”.