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Breakfast in Kabul, tea in Pakistan, dinner in Delhi: Modi back home after ‘unique’ soft skills diplomacy

Prime Minister Narendra Modi returned to New Delhi on Friday evening after a three-nation tour that included a surprise visit to Pakistan.

“Breakfast in Kabul, tea in Lahore & dinner in Delhi! PM @narendramodi returns after a unique day in Indian diplomacy,” external affairs ministry spokesman Vikas Swarup tweeted.

On his way back to New Delhi from Kabul, Modi made a sudden stopover in Lahore where he met his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif and pledged to pursue the peace process.

Modi and Sharif spent some 90 minutes at Sharif’s ancestral residence in Raiwind town, about 40 km from here, and decided to continue the suspended dialogue between the two countries after months of border tensions.

It was a telephone call from Modi from Kabul greeting Sharif on his birthday which triggered the dramatic journey — his first to Pakistan and the first by any Indian prime minister in 11 years.

Sharif had attended Modi’s oath taking in New Delhi in May 2014.

A Pakistani official said Modi also blessed the granddaughter of Sharif on her wedding. “Modi had no clue about the wedding,” he said.

The Indian leader, who sipped Kashmiri tea while meeting Sharif, also met the Pakistani leader’s mother.

Indian external affairs ministry spokesperson Vikas Swarup tweeted: “Infusing a positive spirit in the neighbourhood. Modi departs from Lahore.”

Modi reportedly told Sharif that it was important for the leadership of the two countries to understand each other’s position. The Pakistani media said the two leaders had decided to take forward their bilateral relations for the benefit of South Asia.

Modi and Sharif agreed to promote people-to-people contacts and confidence building measures.

Sharif and his brother and Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif were among the VIPs who received Modi at the Allama Iqbal International Airport as Modi landed in an Indian Air Force plane. The two leaders then took a helicopter to Raiwind.

Geo TV reported that the visit “was not that surprising” as the Lahore Air Traffic Control had been told about it on Thursday.

But few in India and Pakistan knew about the programme, which came at a time when bilateral relations have shown definite improvement after months of tensions and border clashes.

The Pakistan Air Force presented a guard of honour for Modi.

Modi and Sharif had fleetingly met at the Paris Climate Summit on November 30, preparing the atmosphere for a resumption of the stalled bilateral dialogue.

Indian National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, who accompanied Modi to Lahore, met his Pakistani counterpart in Bangkok earlier this month. This was followed by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s visit to Islamabad.

The two foreign secretaries are set to meet in January, also in the Pakistani capital.

Hours before he left for Lahore, Modi addressed the Afghan parliament and blasted Islamabad – but without naming the country – for sponsoring terrorism in Afghanistan.

“Terror and violence cannot be the instrument to shape Afghanistan’s future or dictate the choices Afghans make,” Modi told Afghan MPs. Modi reached Kabul early on Friday after a two-day visit to Russia.

In an obvious reference to Pakistan, Modi said there were “some who did not want us to be here”.

“There were those who saw sinister designs in our presence here. There are others who were uneasy at the strength of our partnership. Some even tried to discourage us.”

At the same time, Modi said Pakistan must act like a bridge between South Asia and Afghanistan.

“All of us in the region – India, Pakistan, Iran and others – must unite, in trust and cooperation, behind this common purpose and in recognition of our common destiny.”

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