Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif, shook hands at the closing ceremony of the 18th SAARC summit here on Thursday, to the delight of the gathering.
Pakistan also withdrew its objection, paving the way for the signing of an energy cooperation agreement. The photo-op came after much speculation on the nature of interaction between the two leaders, who last met for talks at Mr. Modi’s swearing-in in May.
Officials made it clear there had been no dialogue, nor even any substantial conversation between the two leaders at the retreat in Dhulikhel on Thursday, or at anytime during the summit.
Even so, when Mr. Modi and Mr. Sharif moved towards each other for a handshake, at the instance of Nepal’s Prime Minister Sushil Koirala, the audience of mainly SAARC country officials, greeted it with applause.
There was relief over Pakistan’s decision to withdraw objections to at least one of the three agreements that had been proposed, for energy cooperation, and all SAARC leaders signed it at the concluding ceremony.
According to the declaration, SAARC countries also resolved to build an economic federation in 15 years. Pakistan reportedly decided to clear the energy pact, which facilitates trade of electricity among all SAARC nations, after the other leaders spoke to Mr. Sharif at the retreat earlier in the day.
“Despite all the difficulties, it was due to the ability of the SAARC leaders that differences were overcome [over the agreement], and that bodes well for SAARC,” said Indian Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin, adding India considers the Nepal summit a “success.”
Agreements on motor vehicle movement and railway linkages are expected to be cleared within a time frame of three months, and they will be signed by Transport Ministers, said officials.