Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a surprise stop over in Pakistan on December 25, 2015 to meet his counterpart, Nawaz Sharif, the first time an Indian premier has visited the rival state in over a decade.
The visit, requested by Modi just hours earlier before he flew back home from Afghanistan, raised hopes that stop-and-start negotiations between the nuclear-armed neighbors might finally make progress after three wars and more than 65 years of hostility.
“Among the decisions taken was that ties between the two countries would be strengthened and also people-to-people contact would be strengthened so that the atmosphere can be created in which the peace process can move forward”, Pakistan’s top diplomat, Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhry said.
The next step will be for the two countries’ foreign secretaries to meet in the middle of next month, he added.
Mistrust between India and Pakistan runs deep. Modi’s visit is the first by an Indian prime minister to Pakistan since the 2008 Mumbai attacks in which 166 people were killed in the Indian city by militants trained in Pakistan.
The two countries were born out of British colonial India in 1947, divided into Hindu-majority India and Islamic Pakistan.
Modi, a Hindu nationalist, came to power in 2014, and has authorized a more robust approach to Pakistan, giving security forces the license to retaliate forcefully along their disputed border and demanding an end to insurgent attacks in Indian territory.
In Afghanistan, many believe that Islamabad sponsors the Taliban insurgency to weaken the Kabul government and limit the influence of India.
Pakistan rejects the accusation but it has struggled to turn around perceptions in Afghanistan, where social media users sent out a stream of glowing commentary on Modi’s visit, contrasting the parliament building with the destruction wrought by Taliban suicide bombers.
Nalin Kohli, a spokesman for Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, said in New Delhi that India was ready to take two steps forward if Pakistan took one to improve ties.
The opposition Congress Party called Modi’s visit irresponsible and said that nothing had happened to warrant warming of ties between the rivals. Scheduled high-level talks between the two were canceled in August 2015 after ceasefire violations across the border.
Opening the parliament building in Kabul, Modi pledged India’s support for the Afghan government and urged regional powers, including Pakistan, to work together to foster peace.
“We know that Afghanistan’s success will require the cooperation and support of each of its neighbors. And all of us in the region – India, Pakistan, Iran and others – must unite in trust and cooperation behind the common purpose and in recognition of our common destiny”, said Modi.
Selections from REUTERS