The Pakistan military establishment was on board when Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif hosted Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Lahore on Friday, as the latter paid a surprise visit to that country to greet the former on his birthday. A senior leader very close to PM Sharif confirmed this to The Sunday Guardian. “Yes, right now the establishment and civilian government are on the same page. Both realise that there is a need to address outstanding issues,” he told this newspaper from Islamabad.
“Mian Sahab’s desire for peace and the efforts and initiatives that he took in the past, have found support in Prime Minister Modi. Together, they could make history,” he went on to add.
As for the historic call that PM Modi made to PM Sharif around 1 pm IST on 25 December, Friday, preparations for it started a day earlier. Sources from both the Indian and Pakistani administrations confirm that the Indian high commission in Islamabad was asked on 24 December, Thursday, to fix the call for the 25th. No one at that point of time foresaw that PM Modi would decide to go to Pakistan. The Indian side was trying to get in touch with PM Sharif’s office to fix the call, but were unable to do so, as he was not in Islamabad. Finally, one senior officer from the Indian high commission got in touch with a senior political adviser to the Pakistani PM. The adviser then passed on the message to PM Sharif, who was in Lahore at the time, that PM Modi would call him the next day. It was then that officials on both sides touched base and fixed up a phone call for the next morning.
Sources in the Indian administration say that the phone call was scheduled for 11:30 am (Pakistan time), but because the PM was running behind schedule in Kabul, the call finally took place at around 12:30 pm (1 pm IST). Sources also said that Prime Minister Sharif in his conversation with PM Modi reiterated his invitation to the Indian PM and said that he was always welcome to Pakistan. Sharif told his Indian counterpart that he was not in Islamabad but was in his hometown, Raiwind, for his granddaughter’s wedding. It was at that moment that PM Modi said that he would drop by in Lahore. PM Sharif requested him to visit his farmhouse Jati Umrah where the celebrations were on and the PM agreed to it. When the conversation took place none of the senior staff was present with Prime Minister Modi. They were all caught by surprise.
The Pakistani side says that Sharif then called up his top officials and activated Protocol and the Foreign Office. After this, preparations began on full swing to welcome the Indian PM on Pakistani soil.
Initially, PM Modi was to reach Pakistan within a couple of hours of the phone call. But a senior officer said that the flight got delayed because “in a last minute decision Prime Minister Modi wanted to meet the Indian security personnel in Kabul who did a stupendous work with the security preparedness for his visit. They are also the ones who ensure the Indian mission and consulates are safe in Afghanistan.”
When asked what made Prime Minister Modi take the decision to go to Lahore, an Indian source described it as a “leadership call”, where “the main factors” were “Sharif family gathering, PM Sharif’s mother who PM Modi has always made it a point to connect with, Atal Behari Vajpayee’s birthday and an attempt to keep the spirit of 26 May 2014 oath-taking ceremony alive”. Sharif had visited Delhi when PM took oath on that day.
Sources say that the two leaders had an unstructured meeting. A source said, “The whole focus was how to keep the dialogue going and pushing for cooperation. The better part of the conversation was spent talking about Atal Behari Vajpayee. Both leaders remembered him as it was his birthday too. They both fondly spoke of him. PM Sharif asked PM Modi to convey his regards to Atalji who the Indian PM was going to meet later that evening after returning to Delhi.” “Specifics were not discussed because it was not the occasion,” the source added.
Specific issues of terror or Kashmir did not come up for discussion. And even though Sharif is a cricket enthusiast, he did not discuss the shelved India-Pakistan cricket series.
The crux of the meeting was, as the source put it, “Baatcheet hona chahiye (dialogue should continue).”