Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif tonight exchanged pleasantries at a cultural gala here, amid frosty bilateral ties, deadlocked talks and escalation of hostilities along the LoC in Jammu and Kashmir.
It was the first encounter between Modi and Sharif after their last meeting in Lahore on December 25, 2015, when the Indian prime minister made a surprise stopover at the historic city.
Modi and Sharif are here to attend the summit of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) where India and Pakistan will be inducted as full members of the bloc tomorrow.
Official sources said Modi and Sharif were in the Leaders’ Lounge at the Astana Opera tonight before the SCO concert where they exchanged greetings.
“Since it was the first occasion when the two leaders came across each other after Sharif’s operation, PM Modi enquired about his health. He also enquired about Sharif’s mother and family,” a top source said. Sharif had undergone an open-heart surgery in June last year.
The brief exchange of words between the two prime ministers came at a time when bilateral ties have nosedived over a range of issues including beheading of two soldiers by Pakistan military along the LoC in Jammu and Kashmir and death sentence given to former Indian naval officer Kulbhushan Jadhav by a military court in Pakistan on charges of spying.
The International Court of Justice has stayed Jadhav’s execution. The Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir has witnessed rising tension.
In December 2015, Modi had made a surprise stopover at Lahore on his way back home after a day-long trip to Afghanistan which was the first visit to Pakistan by an Indian premier in more than 10 years.
However, positivity from Modi’s visit was shortlived as Pakistan-based terror groups carried out an attack on Pathankot base of Indian Air Force base on January 2, 2016. Earlier, asked whether there is a possibility of a bilateral meeting between Modi and Sharif, External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Gopal Baglay said neither Pakistani side has requested for it nor India has any proposal for such a meeting.
He said there were couple of moments when leaders were at the same place, adding he was not aware whether they met. Modi, Sharif, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping were among top leaders who attended the reception hosted by Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev.
At the cultural evening, both Modi and Sharif were sitting apart.
The cultural event had a Kathak dance performance by an Indian team. It was the only performance from a country which is not yet member of the SCO. Both India and Pakistan will be admited as full member of the bloc tomorrow.
Earlier in the day, when asked whether he will have a meeting with Modi, Sharif, before leaving for the reception, only smiled and waved at the media persons, which many interpreted as an indication of a possible meeting or at least a pull-aside between the two leaders.