Nothing but symbolic

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Modi-Sharif meet could’ve waited for a while

While Mr Nawaz Sharif's presence at Mr Narendra Modi's swearing-in ceremony has evoked much bonhomie on both sides of the border, the subsequent bilateral meeting on Tuesday between the two Prime Ministers could have perhaps been held at a later time. After all, there is little to suggest that the kind of extensive groundwork needed for such a meeting to succeed, was in place. On the contrary, there have been repeated ceasefire violations from the Pakistani side in Kashmir as well as an audacious attack ostensibly by the Pakistan-based terror group, the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba, on India's Consulate in Herat, Afghanistan. The trial of those who masterminded the 26/11 attack has also made no progress in Pakistan, even as anti-India terror groups function freely across that country. As recently as a few hours ago, 26/11 mastermind Hafiz Saeed, who roams free on the streets of Pakistan, delivered one of his venomous lectures against India. Thus, given that there have been no changes in the ground situation that has led to a virtual halt in meaningful talks with the neighbouring country, it is difficult to justify a high-level talk between the two Prime Ministers. Indeed, it would have been miraculous if anything substantial had emerged from the 50-minute-long meeting. Yes, Prime Minister Modi took a strong stand during the meeting, making it clear to his Pakistani counterpart that the peace dialogue cannot be held as long as Pakistani elements continue to sponsor terror. Mr Sharif too responded with the correct noises. And while all this is much appreciated, the fact remains that ‘terror and talks can’t go hand-in-hand’ has been India's official line for long. It is also a fact that the position has not brought about any change in Islamabad’s attitude towards terror activities directed at India.

Against this backdrop, the Sharif-Modi meet has expectedly disappointed realists in India. It is true that Mr Modi scored a huge diplomatic advantage on the Pakistan policy front by inviting SAARC leaders, including Mr Sharif. Let us not forget that even until a few days ago, Mr Modi's critics were convinced that even if he didn't go to war against Pakistan, he would do precious little to improve ties with that country. In fact, the general criticism against Mr Modi was that the new Prime Minister, with his muscular foreign policy, would alienate friends and neighbours especially in India's Muslim majority neighbourhood. That does not seem to be happening. In short, while the invitation to the swearing-in was a diplomatic masterstroke, the bilateral meeting may have been somewhat of an overkill.

Nonetheless, while the bilateral meeting had little to offer, the visit that Mr Sharif made for Mr Modi’s oath-taking ceremony brought the two leaders on the same page. This was unlike in previous years when Pakistani leaders often took their Indian hosts by surprise when they deviated from the script during media interactions and sought to score brownie points. Equally importantly, it helped Mr Modi and Mr Sharif strike a personal connection. Finally, it has injected positive energy into the India-Pakistan relationship. Mr Sharif's decision to call on Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee was a thoughtful gesture. It acknowledged the gains made in the past. This should help in future plans.

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