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PM Modi lands in Lahore on a surprise visit

Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived in Lahore on Friday for a meeting with his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif in a surprise visit to this country -the first visit to Pakistan by an Indian premier in more than 10 years. Modi was received by Sharif with a warm hug at the tarmac of Allama Iqbal International Airport after his unexpected stopover here on his way back home after a day-long trip today to Afghanistan where he went after concluding a two-day visit to Russia on Thursday.

Modi was accorded a red carpet welcome as PM’s special IAF Boeing 737 plane made a smooth touchdown at 4.20 local time(4.50 IST). He then took a chopper to proceed to Sharif’s Raiwind palatial residence in the outskirts of Lahore.

The US welcomed Modi-Sharif meeting, saying that improved ties between the two countries will benefit the entire region.

“We welcome the December 25 talks between PM Modi and PM Sharif in Lahore. As we have long said, better relations between neighbours India and Pakistan will benefit the people of the entire region,” a state department spokesman said.

UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon also welcomed the surprise meeting between the two leaders in Lahore, hoping that the bilateral dialogue will be maintained and strengthened going forward.

“Spoke to PM Nawaz Sharif & wished him on his birthday,” Modi added in another tweet. Sharif turned 66 today. The visit came more than two weeks after Modi and Sharif had an unscheduled meeting at climate change talks in Paris. The agenda of the meeting is not known but the two leaders are expected to discuss major issues which have rocked ties between the two countries.

The relations between India and Pakistan have witnessed some positive developments after chill for several months. The two countries recently decided to launch a comprehensive dialogue after Modi-Sharif meet in Paris. “That’s like a statesman,” External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj tweeted about the surprise visit by Modi. “One should have such relations with the neighbours,” she added.

The last visit to Pakistan by an Indian prime minister was in 2004 by Atal Bihari Vajpayee, whose 91st birthday fell today and who is credited with bringing about a thaw in relations with Islamabad. Pakistani authorities put security on high alert in Lahore especially around the airport area following the announcement of Modi’s brief visit to the eastern city.

A heavy contingent of police and Pakistan Rangers have reached the Allama Iqbal International Airport and taken charge of the security. “Security in Lahore has been put on high alert,” a senior police official told PTI. He said police have also been deployed on the adjoining areas of the airport.

“Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a surprise visit to Pakistan on Friday — a significant sign the icy relationship between the two neighbours is thawing,” it said.

The Washington Post said Modi has “pressed the reset button on the blow-hot-blow-cold relationship” between the two nuclear-armed neighbours, paving the way for official dialogue to resume next month.

The Chicago Tribune reported: “The previously unannounced visit is a potential sign of thawing relations between the two nuclear-armed neighbours.”

Injecting an element of drama into the see-saw India-Pakistan ties, PM Modi took the world by surprise by announcing in a tweet from Kabul that he will “drop by” in Lahore to greet Sharif on his 66th birthday today.

“Looking forward to meeting PM Nawaz Sharif in Lahore today afternoon, where I will drop by on my way back to Delhi,” Modi tweeted early on Friday.

Modi, on his way back home from Kabul, made a sudden stopover in Lahore to meet Sharif and attend a family weeding.

HIGHLIGHTS

• The US welcomed Modi-Sharif meeting, saying that improved ties between the two countries will benefit the entire region.

• UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon also welcomed the surprise meeting between the two leaders in Lahore, hoping that the bilateral dialogue will be maintained.

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