By Anil Giri
Kathmandu, Nov 27:
After a day when they apparently ignored each other in front of cameras, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Pakistani Premier Nawaz Sharif shook hands and met briefly during the retreat at the Saarc Summit Thursday.
“Yes, they have met and shook hands at the retreat,” Nepal Foreign Minister Mahendra Bahadur Pandey told IANS over phone from Dhulikhel, where the retreat is being held on the second day of the two-day 18th South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation Summit.
Multiple diplomatic sources told IANS that both the prime ministers were also seen talking during a reception hosted by Nepalese Prime Minister Sushil Koirala Wednesday evening in honour of the visiting Saarc heads of state and government. Both the prime ministers also spoke to each other in a waiting room.
Both Modi and Sharif were in the same row at dinner and were chatting with each other, said a diplomat, adding that the talking appeared to be informal in nature.
Both the prime ministers have taken a tour in and around the Dhulikhel resort which is famous for its magnificent view of the Himalayas.
Leaders will spend almost five hours at the retreat.
Nepal, the host country, is pushing for talks between India and Pakistan and at least a Saarc related energy accord. But a planned meeting between the two South Asian leaders has not taken place.
As of now, both leaders have not met separately at the retreat, but Nepal and other Saarc members are pushing them to sit for talks as they believe that Saarc cannot get off the ground till India and Pakistan resolve their bilateral problems.
Other countries have in the past accused the region’s two biggest countries of holding down Saarc’s growth and development.
Both Modi and Sharif also briefly shook hands after the inaugural session of the summit as well as in the holding room adjacent to the Saarc summit hall.
Pakistan Wednesday played spoilsport by blocking three major Saarc connectivity projects initiated by India.
While Modi, who gave a forceful maiden speech at the summit on the need for seamless connectivity, met his Bangladeshi and Bhutanese counterparts Sheikh Hasina and Tshering Tobgay, and later the presidents of Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Maldives, Ashraf Ghani, Mahinda Rajapaksa and Abdulla Yameen, Sharif was not on the list.
India’s external affairs ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin Wednesday said there was “no structured meeting” planned between the two leaders as India has not received any request for such a meet from Pakistan.
(Anil Giri can be contacted at [email protected])