Messaging behind Modi-Sharif handshake: Keep guessing!

It may have lasted for a minute. But in the end, it was the warm handshake between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif that will remain the most enduring image and the most tweeted photo of the 18th SAARC summit in Kathmandu.
The ringing applause that followed the handshake between the leaders of India and Pakistan and the beaming faces at the end of the Kathmandu summit on November 27 said it all. In the end, despite the official disclaimer that the SAARC is not about India and Pakistan, it was clear that the eight-nation regional grouping can only take off if that handshake translates into a meaningful dialogue between the two estranged neighbours of South Asia.

In a sense, the hype about the Modi-Sharif handshake, with television news channels hysterically speculating 24×7 about a possible meeting between the two leaders which did not happen, also ironically underlines diminishing expectations about the India-Pakistan relations that remain eternally enmeshed in mutual recriminations and the thick fog of suspicion.

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New energy in SAARC: Summit salvaged as India, Pakistan PMs smile

In diplomacy, a seemingly impossible situation can change dramatically in a few hours’ time. And so it was with the 18th SAARC summit. The jamboree of the South Asian leaders was dismissed till last night as a no-show till some fresh air and spirited talk among leaders at a resort town outside the mountain city of Kathmandu reversed the gloom and doom narrative, with SAARC signing a potentially defining pact on sharing electricity.
As the curtains came down on the two-day SAARC summit, the optics of the summit had changed radically, with the leaders of India and Pakistan warmly shaking hands after the leaders unanimously adopted the Kathmandu Declaration that outlined a reasonably doable agenda for intensifying multifarious cooperation across the spectrum.
India, which was looking visibly disappointed at the stalling of the three SAARC pacts on energy, road and rail connectivity by Pakistan, heaved a sigh of relief with Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif finally going along with other SAARC leaders to give his assent to the pact on creating a regional power grid.
In the end, it was the relaxed and informal interaction among leaders at the retreat at Dhulikhel, an idyllic resort town located nearly 30 km away from the capital Kathmandu, that did the trick. The view of the majestic Himalayas may have helped clear the air.

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SAARC pacts: Pakistan plays spoiler, India says will move ahead with integration

The spotlight is on Pakistan at the 18th SAARC summit in Kathmandu, albeit for all the wrong reasons. Leaders of South Asian countries voiced “disappointment “ at the stalling of the three key pacts on road and rail connectivity and energy-sharing by Pakistan, which refused to go along with the pacts which were expected to be headline outcomes of the SAARC summit on grounds that its internal processes were not complete.
“They were more than a little disappointed ( at the failure of the SAARC connectivity and energy-related pacts to go through), ” Syed Akbaruddin, the spokesperson of India’s external affairs ministry, told journalists at the end of a long-day of back-to-back diplomatic engagements by the Indian prime minister. The spokesperson stressed that the leaders, in their discussions with Mr Modi, said that “this did not augur well for the region. “
India, on its part, clarified that these pacts were not India’s proposals but those of the SAARC secretariat, and underlined that despite the temporary stalling of these pacts, India will march ahead on bilateral track or through the path of sub-regional integration.

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Converting SAARC sceptics: Modi says it’s time to act and make dreams flower

It’s time to make a new beginning in South Asia and convert cynicism and skepticism shadowing the SAARC grouping into a ripe field of opportunity through deeper integration and freer movement of goods, people and dreams. This was the overarching message of India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s debut speech at the SAARC summit in the Nepali capital as he unveiled new unilateral initiatives in areas of education, business, public health and IT, and offered to launch a SAARC satellite by 2016.
The prime minister spelt out the five pillars that underpin India’s vision for the region, which includes trade, investment, assistance, cooperation in every area, contacts between people – and, all through seamless connectivity.
In his speech, Mr Modi, who is attending a SAARC summit for the first time, provided a trenchant prognosis of what ails the 8-nation South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, and exhorted the SAARC leader to convert cynicism into a new narrative of hope and opportunity to bind the region together in an intimate mesh of trading, rail, road and air links.

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Speculation swirl on likely meeting between India, Pakistan PMs

Amid speculation about a possible meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif in Kathmandu, Pakistan’s Defence Minister Khawaja Asif has said that Islamabad desires peace with New Delhi and underlined that the two neighbours can resolve their disputes through dialogue and negotiations.

“Pakistan desires peace with India but its desire should not be taken as its weakness,” Asif said in Islamabad. Mr Asif stressed that soon after assuming office, Mr Sharif had expressed his desire for peace with India and has repeated his intention to build bridges with India many a time in the last few months. “This desire has been misconceived by the other side,” he said.
n Kathmandu, speculation continued to swirl about a meeting between Mr Modi and Mr Sharif on the sidelines of the SAARC summit, with both sides maintaining studied ambivalence on the issue. Both Mr Modi and Mr Sharif arrived in Kathmandu November 25 for the 18th SAARC summit, but there is no indication yet whether they will meet to defrost tensions and map the way forward for the troubled India-Pakistan relations that have plunged to a new look following unrelenting firing by border troops and Pakistan’s determined diplomatic offensive to internationalise the Kashmir issue.

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Raising the bar for SAARC: Building Bridges, Linking Dreams

Intertwined Destinies, Interlinked Dreams – expressions like these may appear ornate clichés for sceptics, but in reality it would be an understatement to underscore the enormous stakes each country has in fructifying immense potential of the region. India, the largest economy and the most populous country in the region, is an idealist as well as a realist in its ongoing efforts to revitalise the SAARC as the preeminent forum of regional cooperation and integration. For the India Story can’t be delinked from the state of South Asia, its choices and its conflicts and its surging hopes and aspirations.
In an imaginative initiative, Prime Minister Modi has called for jointly developing a SAARC satellite that could become a powerful symbol of regional solidarity and a realistic vehicle of providing the much-needed data for averting natural disasters and meteorological data to optimise agriculture potential of individual economies and the region. Initiatives like these show that the SAARC grouping, if it wants to, is ready to move into a different orbit, literally as well as metaphorically.
It’s time to raise the sights, dream big and prove that even the sky is not the limit for regional integration.

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