A Thaw, However Slight, Between PM Modi and Nawaz Sharif

Narendra_Modi_Nawaz_Sharif_Shake_Hands_SAARC_Summit_27Nov14_650_ReutersNEW DELHI : A handshake between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif reasserted that the focus of a summit of South Asian leaders remained sharply on the tension between the two leaders and their countries.
At a photo-op that accompanied the end of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit in Nepal, the PM was seen smiling and chatting with Mr Sharif; at one point, Mr Modi placed his hand on Mr Sharif’s arm.
The pair had cold-shouldered each other yesterday. They barely exchanged pleasantries at a dinner last night; before that, as Mr Sharif got up to address the summit, Mr Modi was seen pointedly reading a pamphlet.
The thaw reportedly came today at a mountain retreat of the eight South Asian leaders. Mr Modi and Mr Sharif first shook hands there, said Nepal’s Foreign Minister Mahendra Bahadur Pandey.
Syed Akbaruddin, India’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson said there was no one-on-one session. “India is for peaceful ties with Pakistan. We want meaningful dialogue. If this handshake leads to that, we would welcome it. However, the emphasis is on meaningful dialogue.”
The SAARC summit, the first in three years, comes as cross-border violence in Kashmir has peaked to the worst in over a decade. 20 civilians were killed last month. Today, three soldiers were killed in an attack by suspected Pakistani militants near the border in Jammu.
Apart from the India-Pak handshake, little else has been achieved at the SAARC summit – a deal clinched at the last minute to create a regional grid was the face-saver. Pakistan found itself isolated over its stalling of two crucial deals on road and rail links needed to boost cross-border trade.
In its 30 years of existence, SAARC has managed to deliver little for its eight member nations. Despite a free trade pact since 2006, South Asian nations conduct only five per cent of their total trade with each other, and there are few transport and power links in an energy-starved region.
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