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Of handshakes and biryanis: The Narendra Modi-Nawaz Sharif meet

The two leaders met for nearly an hour and touched upon a host of issues from terror to trade-which are also linked.

twitter-logo Shweta Punj        Last Updated: May 27, 2014  | 20:38 IST
Of handshakes and biryanis: The Modi-Sharif meet
Prime Minister Narendra Modi (R) and his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif smile before the start of their bilateral meeting in New Delhi May 27, 2014. Photo: Reuters

Shweta Punj
There was loud applause when the arrival of Pakistan Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif was announced at the grand swearing in ceremony of Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi on Monday (May 26). Sharif walked in wearing a black suit. Some in the audience even stood on their toes to try and get a glimpse of the man who took nearly three days to accept the invitation sent by Modi to attend the most talked about swearing in ceremony in recent times across the world.  

High-profile visits between the two countries are almost as closely watched as India-Pakistan cricket matches, and every visit raises hopes of more civility in relations between the two countries.

The much talked about meeting between the two leaders on Tuesday (May 27) overshot its scheduled 30 minutes. It went on for nearly an hour and touched upon a host of issues from terror to trade-which are also linked.

Trade between India and Pakistan remains a negligible 0.34 per cent of India's total trade with the world. It is low, mainly because of Pakistan's resistance to reciprocating with the 'Most Favoured Nation' status India has already given Pakistan, way back in 1996.

The dialogue on this subject that has gone on continuously has been sometimes derailed by what might seem inane issues - such as the Urdu translation of 'Most Favoured Nation' -which translates to 'Sabse Pasandeeda mulk.'

There was an uproar of sorts which played a decisive role in delaying India from getting MFN status from Pakistan, an essential step towards improving trade relations between the two countries. No doubt, this problem is not unique to these two countries alone. A similar issue arose between China and US, but was resolved rather quickly, for the benefit of the two countries, by introducing a change in terminology.

Modi has clearly used the opportunity of dialogue with Sharif as judiciously as he could - almost raising every concern that has bogged down relations between the two countries - whether grand gestures lead to any concrete measures would now depend on micro-level decisions that affect stakeholders in both countries. The grand meeting has definitely been a mood booster, but whether any of that translates into changing India's trade equation with Pakistan will now depend on the message that Sharif carries home.

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