Nepal Prime Minister Sushil Koirala played a crucial role in ending the impasse between India and Pakistan during the retreat at Dhulikhel near here Thursday on the sidelines of the 18th Saarc Summit.
There was immense pressure on Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Shairf, from visiting leaders and the media to sit for talks but the strained relations once again surfaced during the inaugural session of the summit Wednesday.
Both the leaders hardly looked at each other and even failed to shake hands during the formal inauguration ceremony. Diplomatic sources said that both Modi and Sharif shook hands after the inaugural session inside the holding room at National Convention Centre but not much arose between them.
Despite speculations flying swift and fast about the possibility of a meeting between the Indian and Pakistani leaders during the course of the summit, nothing much came up Wednesday. During his talks with Modi, Prime Minister Koirala suggested that the Indian leader reach out to Sharif given India’s size, population, economy and its regional, global, political and strategic clout.
Koirala had another chance in his hand Thursday to bring Modi and Sharif together so that they could at least talk to each other informally and resume the process for bilateral talks that were stalled Aug 18.
“We provided the venue, an excellent picturesque environment for informal mingling to all heads of state and government,” Dinesh Bhattarai, foreign relations adviser to Koirala who was present in the Dhulikel retreat near here for almost over four hours, told IANS.
Koirala took the heads of state and government around the Dwarika Shangri-la Resort describing the geography around the resort and gradually created an environment cordial enough for at least informal talks and a handshake between Modi and Sharif.
Finally, Modi and Sharif shook hands and started an informal chat, said another official present in the meeting. They also decided to shake their hands formally during the closing ceremony back in Kathmandu, which was done without any choreography.
“Today’s retreat in Dhulikhel remained another important occasion where we held informal discussions on important issues. Our discussions and deliberations were held in a very friendly and cordial atmosphere,” Koirala said during a press conference Thursday after the conclusion of the summit.
When asked about his role in ending the impasse between India and Pakistan, Koriala replied: “Saarc means a family. It is natural that hands and souls match here. It should happen and it is happening.”
Anyone can take the initiative for that, said the Nepal prime minister. Before he addressed the media, the summit hall was filled with the sound of applause during the closing session after Modi and Sharif shook hands on the podium with Koirala looking on with a smile.
With smiles all around, Modi whispered something in Sharif’s ear. After that, both the leaders spoke to each other comfortably in the closing ceremony.
The effect of the informal talks between Modi and Sharif was immediately reflected in the proposed agreements. The heads of the South Asian nations agreed to sign the Saarc Framework Agreement on Energy Cooperation and decided to sign two other agreements — on movement of motor vehicle and railways — within three months in a big face-saver for Nepal in particular and the region as a whole.