Modi To Become First Indian PM Since 2004 to Visit Pakistan

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Narendra Modi agreed to become the first Indian prime minister since 2004 to visit Pakistan, sparking hopes of a detente following a year of tension.

Modi will attend a meeting of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation in Pakistan next year, according to S. Jaishankar, India’s foreign secretary, who read from a joint statement. It came after Modi met Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif on Friday for the first time in 14 months.

“The joint statement is a step forward towards normalising bilateral relations,” Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh said on Twitter after the meeting. “However the future outcome will be keenly watched.”

Modi and Sharif shook hands before sitting down for an hour-long discussion in the Russian city of Ufa, where they were both attending a Central Asian security and economic summit. The talks were the first since Sharif attended Modi’s inauguration last year.

Ties have soured since then over the worst border fighting in a decade, broken diplomacy and Pakistan’s release of Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, the alleged mastermind behind the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks.

India scrapped formal talks in August after one of Pakistan’s diplomats met with Kashmiri separatists. Modi and Sharif saw each other in November at a South Asian summit in Nepal, but managed only a hand shake.

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At the heart of the dispute between the nuclear-armed neighbors is the mountainous region of Kashmir, which is divided between them and claimed in full by both. The nations have fought four wars since they became independent in 1947.

“Both leaders condemned terrorism in all its forms and agreed to cooperate with each other to eliminate this menace from South Asia,” the countries said in a joint statement. The two countries are ready to discuss all issues, Pakistan Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry told reporters.

India and Pakistan will establish a mechanism for religious tourism and help expedite an investigation into the Mumbai terror cases, according to the statement. It didn’t mention Kashmir, nor did it name Lakhvi.

The last Indian prime minister to visit Pakistan was Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who traveled to Islamabad for a regional summit in January 2004 where he met then-President Pervez Musharraf.

Border disputes and terrorism have stifled attempts to boost trade ties between India and Pakistan, which hold a fifth of the world’s population. While the nations share a 3,200-kilometer (2,000-mile) border and mutually understandable languages, trade was less than 0.5 percent of India’s combined commerce with other nations, government data show.