Narendra Modi, Sharif exchange pleasantries during SAARC retreat

In an ice-breaking moment, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi shook hands with his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif, laughed and even slapped him laughingly on the arm, while sharing a light moment at the concluding ceremony of the 18th Saarc Summit here Thursday.

Kathmandu: In the end it was just a handshake and an exchange of pleasantries between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif at the SAARC retreat near here today, in sharp contrast to the bonhomie between them just six months ago.

Their cold vibes were on open display at the inaugural session of the eight-nation SAARC Summit here yesterday when they virtually ignored each other. "There was not even a 'dua-salaam' (exchange of courtesies)," said a Pakistan source contradicting reports that the two leaders had a brief chat at the dinner hosted by Nepal Prime Minister Sushil Koirala last night.

Modi, Sharif exchange pleasantries during SAARC retreat
Narendra Modi

However, it was nearly impossible for Modi and Sharif to ignore each other in Dhulikhel just outside the Nepalese capital where restricted number of guests were present. There was no word that they went beyond pleasantries and talked about bilateral issues.

"The two leaders exchanged pleasantries when they met for the first time after arriving here," External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said.

Lack of warmth between the two Prime Ministers at the SAARC is reflective of the sudden downslide in Indo-Pak ties after Sharif had attended Modi's swearing-in ceremony as did most of the SAARC leaders. Consultations held by Pakistan High Commissioner in New Delhi with Kashmiri separatists led to the cancellation by India of Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh's visit to Islamabad in September.

Since then both countries have maintained that they are willing to engage in a meaningful dialogue provided the other side takes the initiative. Ahead of SAARC, Pakistan did not help matters with Sharif insisting that he would consult Kashmiri leaders again before any dialogue with India and maintained that the "ball is in India's court" since it had unilaterally cancelled the talks.

Modi had structured bilateral meetings with all SAARC heads of governments and states except Sharif on the sidelines of the 18th South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation Summit.

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