Astana, June 9: Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif exchanged pleasantries at a cultural gala here, amid frosty bilateral ties, deadlocked talks and escalation of hostilities along the LoC in Jammu and Kashmir.
It was the first encounter between Modi and Sharif after their last meeting in Lahore on December 25, 2015, when the Indian prime minister made a surprise stopover at the historic city.
Modi and Sharif are here to attend the summit of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) where India and Pakistan will be inducted as full members of the bloc tomorrow.
Official sources said Modi and Sharif were in the Leaders’ Lounge at the Astana Opera tonight before the SCO concert where they exchanged greetings.
“Since it was the first occasion when the two leaders came across each other after Sharif’s operation, PM Modi enquired about his health. He also enquired about Sharif’s mother and family,” a top source said. Sharif had undergone an open-heart surgery in June last year.
The brief exchange of words between the two prime ministers came at a time when bilateral ties have nosedived over a range of issues including beheading of two soldiers by Pakistan military along the LoC in Jammu and Kashmir and death sentence given to former Indian naval officer Kulbhushan Jadhav by a military court in Pakistan on charges of spying.
The International Court of Justice has stayed Jadhav’s execution.
The Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir has witnessed rising tension.
In December 2015, Modi had made a surprise stopover at Lahore on his way back home after a day-long trip to Afghanistan which was the first visit to Pakistan by an Indian premier in more than 10 years.
However, positivity from Modi’s visit was shortlived as Pakistan-based terror groups carried out an attack on Pathankot base of Indian Air Force base on January 2, 2016.
Earlier, asked whether there is a possibility of a bilateral meeting between Modi and Sharif, External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Gopal Baglay said neither Pakistani side has requested for it nor India has any proposal for such a meeting.
He said there were couple of moments when leaders were at the same place, adding he was not aware whether they met.
Modi, Sharif, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping were among top leaders who attended the reception hosted by Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev.
At the cultural evening, both Modi and Sharif were sitting apart.
The cultural event had a Kathak dance performance by an Indian team. It was the only performance from a country which is not yet member of the SCO. Both India and Pakistan will be admited as full member of the bloc tomorrow.
Earlier in the day, when asked whether he will have a meeting with Modi, Sharif, before leaving for the reception, only smiled and waved at the media persons, which many interpreted as an indication of a possible meeting or at least a pull-aside between the two leaders.
India, Pakistan become full members of SCO
India, along with Pakistan, was on Friday granted full membership of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) at the influential Eurasian political, economic and military bloc’s summit here.
Expressing his gratitude to the SCO for accepting India’s membership, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that the forum represented 42 per cent of the world’s population, 20 per cent of its GDP and 22 per cent of its territory.
“Though we have become a member of the SCO only today, our relations with the region have been historic,” Modi said.
He said energy, education, transport, agriculture, security, development and trade would be the top drivers in India’s ties with the SCO.
According to Modi, the SCO will also be a powerful partner in the international fight against terrorism.
Speaking after Modi, Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif congratulated India on getting membership in the inter-governmental organisation.
The formation of the SCO was announced in June 2001. India has been an observer to the forum since 2005.
Besides India and Pakistan, other members of the regional bloc are China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
‘Indo-Pak tensions over Kashmir pose challenge’ 
Tensions between India and Pakistan over Kashmir would pose the largest challenge to the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) and its anti-terrorism mechanisms, a Chinese daily said today.
“The inclusion of India and Pakistan will add to the political dimension of the SCO, whose members’ value systems, characteristics of national development and core concerns, will be more diversified,” an editorial in the state-run Global Times said.
The editorial came as the six-member grouping is set to admit India and Pakistan as full members.
The daily said the admission of India and Pakistan has created worry over whether their long-standing hostility would be brought to the SCO, instigating internal disputes.
While SCO can lay the foundations for solving divergences between the two, “it won’t be an easy job. However, the organisation must face such tests as it expands”, it said.
“How India’s participation in the SCO will influence the organisation’s internal leadership has been discussed a lot. Most of the discussion is framed by traditional thinking. The SCO is not a place for leadership competition. Some Indian media should free itself from outdated views, and embrace new patterns of regional cooperation,” it said.
An article the same daily said “if India and Pakistan are unable to realise mutual understanding on their disputes, including the Kashmir issue, the possibility of conflict remains high between both nations.”
“Under those circumstances, it would represent the largest challenge to the SCO, and China and Russia must make more diplomatic effort to alleviate and improve India-Pakistan relations,” he said.
Furthermore, the pressure from non-traditional security threats involving India and Pakistan will increase the difficulty in combating terrorism by the SCO.
Pakistan is seen by the US as a major anti-terrorism partner as its northern areas are frequented by the Taliban. The ever-tense counter-terrorism situation in the region can be seen by the Mumbai terror attacks in 2008 and suicide bombings at a Pakistani shrine in February of this year, it said.
“Although India and Pakistan’s admission as full members into the SCO will bring about convenience in information- sharing and mechanism advantages, ensuing pressure and difficulties in fighting against terrorism will also be increased,” it said.
“Since the signing of the Shanghai Convention on Combating Terrorism, Separatism and Extremism in June 2001, SCO member states have strengthened the crackdown on the three forces, of terrorism, extremism and separatism,” it said.
“However, it is only restricted to China, Russia, and member states of Central Asia. At present, anti-terrorism actions have been expanded to South Asia, especially in India and Pakistan where the situation is relatively grave. Their inclusion will present a major test to the present anti- terrorism mechanisms of the SCO,” it said
“Finally, the inclusion of India and Pakistan into the SCO will examine the cohesiveness of the organisation…With the admission of more member states, problems began to be more visible,” it said.
“From a realistic point of view, the addition of new member states will inevitably bring more problems to the organisation. China and Russia have controlled the development of the SCO in the past, the admission of two major powers in South Asia will require increasing efforts on their parts to continue exerting influence over it,” it said.
The SCO is comprised of China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan as full members.
Afghanistan, Belarus, India, Iran, Mongolia and Pakistan have observer status. Its 2015 summit in Ufa in Russia has formally adopted a resolution which started the procedures to admit India and Pakistan into the SCO.
Both the countries signed a Memorandum of Obligations to join the organisation in last year’s summit in Tashkent.