New Delhi: The meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif in Russia, which resulted in an agreement on five steps to take forward stalled bilateral relations, was on Saturday welcomed by the Pakistani media as a step towards breaking the logjam in ties.Despite the positive developments that emerged from the meeting between the two Prime Ministers, the Pakistani media cautioned that more would have to be done to put bilateral ties on an even keel.
Sharif, however, was criticised by opposition parties for his apparent decision to not raise the Kashmir issue at the talks on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit in Ufa, Pakistani media reports said.
Reports of the Modi-Sharif meeting made the front pages of all dailies, and the headline in the influential Dawn newspaper read, “Sharif, Modi agree to hold talks on all issues.”
The Nation headlined its report: “Nawaz, Modi recognise responsibility to peace.”
Most of the reports also highlighted Modi’s decision to accept Sharif’s invitation to visit Pakistan for a SAARC summit next year. The Express Tribune’s report was headlined: “Ufa meeting: Modi ready to visit Pakistan next year.”
The Tribune noted that if the visit fructifies, Modi will become the first Indian Prime Minister to visit Pakistan since Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 1998.
Since Sharif visited India for Modi’s swearing-in in May last year, the two countries have not had much success with efforts to take forward their ties, which nosedived following a flaring up of hostilities along the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir and heated rhetoric by the leadership on both sides.
During their meeting on Friday, the two Prime Ministers agreed that their National Security Advisors will meet to discuss all issues related to terrorism while top border security and military officials will also hold early meetings.
They also agreed to release detained fishermen and facilitate religious terrorism.The two sides will also cooperate to take forward the trial of seven Pakistani men charged with involvement in the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
Sartaj Aziz, advisor to the Pakistani premier on national security, was quoted by the media as saying that the meeting was “very useful in lessening tension” and helping understand each other’s point of view. He said like Prime Minister Sharif, Modi too believed in combating poverty instead of fighting each other.
However, Aziz said the first priority is to lessen tensions on the LoC and that both leaders were of the opinion that outstanding issues like Kashmir, Siachen and Sir Creek have to be addressed for lasting peace.The News daily noted in its report that the attempt to revive bilateral dialogue was being done in what it described as Modi’s typical approach of a “slow and restricted engagement”.
In an editorial titled “The ice breaks”, The News said: “With Pakistan and India set to start discussions on joining (SCO), it is essential for the two countries to find a way to develop mutual trust…It is important that the two stop the recent trend of mudslinging immediately if relations are to genuinely improve.”
The Express Tribune, in its editorial “Summit hopes”, said, “Whatever Mr Modi has to do or say to satisfy his electorate, India has to live in the wider world of the subcontinent and South Asia, as does Pakistan, and the recognition that both countries have a collective responsibility to maintain peace and promote development is welcome.”
The outcome of the meeting did not impress sections of the Pakistani opposition. Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) vice president Sherry Rehman, a former minister, tweeted: “We welcome Modi to the SAARC summit and support Sharif in peace moves but statement should reflect Pakistan’s concerns too. Right now it’s one sided.”
PPP lawmaker Sehar Kamran criticised the joint statement. “The statement only mentions the Mumbai case trial, but fails to highlight the lingering Kashmir dispute which is a lost opportunity to illustrate the destabilising role of India in the region.”Former interior minister Rehman Malik, also a senior leader of the PPP, criticised Modi for apparently showing “disrespect” to Sharif during the meeting.
In a statement, Malik claimed Sharif “was made to walk through a long corridor towards Modi’s chair” and that the Indian leader did not show the “courtesy under diplomatic norms for his Pakistani counterpart to walk a few steps forward to receive him”.
Shireen Mazari, a senior leader of Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf party, expressed dismay over the manner in which she felt Sharif “appeased India”. She claimed Sharif had been unable to use the opportunity to put forward Pakistan’s case on issues such as terrorism and Kashmir.
She felt Sharif’s invitation to Modi to attend the SAARC summit was unnecessary and “beyond the requirements of diplomatic protocol”. She added: “Modi raised Mumbai and Sharif agreed to ‘fast track’ the investigations. Not a word on Samjhauta Express was uttered by PM Sharif.”
The Nation daily, in its editorial, described the joint statement as “lopsided” and said: “Another glaring omission is any mention of Kashmir, which at the end of the day remains the root of the conflict between both nations…Border skirmishes, religious tourism and captured fishermen are secondary issues, all by products of the Kashmir conflict.”