India-Pakistan thaw? Modi, Sharif to talk in Russia about talks

Modi Sharif AFP May 27It’s official! Ending feverish speculation over the last few days, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is set to meet his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif on the sidelines of the SCO summit in the Russian city of Ufa on July 10.

While it was speculated over the past few days that the two leaders would meet on the sidelines of the SCO summit, there was no official confirmation from either side. Finally,  Vikas Swarup, the spokesperson of India’s external affairs ministry, put the lid on speculation by announcing on twitter that the two leaders will meet at 9.15 am (Russia time) on July 10.

The region will be watching closely when the leaders of India and Pakistan hold talks as improving strained relations between the two nuclear-armed neighbours will be critical to regional peace and stability.

The last time the leaders of the two countries held talks was during the visit of Nawaz Sharif to New Delhi to attend the inauguration of the Modi government in May 2014.  At that time, they spoke about ushering in a new chapter in bilateral ties but those hopes were belied when Pakistan’s High Commissioner invited Kashmiri separatist leaders, which was immediately denounced by New Delhi and cited as the reason for cancelling the talks between the foreign secretaries in August last year. Since then, the ties went downhill with the two countries engaging in blame game over killing of their soldiers along the Line of Control and Pakistan’s threat to internationalize the issue. In this atmosphere of mutual suspicion, the two leaders decided not to avail of the opportunity to meet in New York on the sidelines of the UNGA in September last year. Similarly, Mr Modi and Mr Sharif shook hands at the SAARC summit in Kathmandu, but did not hold any talks.

Finally, Prime Minister Modi’s telephone call to Mr Sharif to greet him before the holy month of Ramzan broke the ice, fuelling speculation about a possible meeting in Ufa. The agenda for talks is not clear, but it is expected to focus on exploring possibilities for the revival of limited dialogue between the two countries. Mr Sharif is expected to invite Mr Modi to Islamabad for the 19th SAARC summit his country will hold in 2016.

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