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Saturday, December 26, 2015, 15:31

Indian PM Modi makes surprise visit to Pakistan

By Agencies

Indian PM Modi makes surprise visit to Pakistan
In this photo released by Press Information Department, Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, right, meets Indian counterpart Narendra Modi in Lahore, Pakistan, Dec 25, 2015.  (Press Information Department via AP)

ISLAMABAD - Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a surprise stopover in Pakistan on Friday to meet his counterpart, Nawaz Sharif, the first time an Indian prime minister has visited the rival nation in over a decade.

The visit, requested by Modi just hours earlier before he flew back home from Afghanistan, raised hopes that stop-and-start negotiations between the nuclear-armed neighbors might finally make progress after three wars and more than 65 years of hostility.

Sharif hugged Modi after he landed at the airport in the eastern city of Lahore and the two left by helicopter for Sharif's nearby family estate.

"So, you have finally come," Sharif told Modi, according to a Pakistani foreign ministry official who was at the meeting.

"Yes, absolutely. I am here," Modi replied, according to the official.

The two leaders had a one-and-a-half hour meeting at the official residence of Sharif in Lahore, officials said. Several ministers and Pakistan's top diplomat Aizaz Chaudhry attended the meeting.

Indian PM Modi makes surprise visit to Pakistan
In this photo released by Press Information Department, India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi, right, shakes hands with his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif in Lahore, Pakistan, Dec 25, 2015. (Press Information Department via AP)

After spending about two hours with Modi at his residence, Sharif went to the Lahore airport along with Modi to see him off.

The Pakistani foreign ministry said that both leaders have agreed to maintain good neighborly relations.

Modi's visit was seen very important ahead of the resumption of the official dialogue between the two countries next month after a break of nearly eight year. The "Composite Dialogue" will restart after the 2008 Mumbai attacks.

The Indian prime minister's visit was widely welcomed in Pakistan and political watchers termed the visit as very important development.

Meanwhile, highly placed sources said Saturday that India and Pakistan are likely to hold foreign secretary-level talks in January next year, .

"The talks may be held in Islamabad on Jan 15. Indian Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar will go there to represent this country," the sources said.

However Modi faced criticism from the main Indian opposition Congress Party.

"Heads of state don't drop in to give Christmas or birthday greetings, particularly when you have such a history of complex issues between the two countries. It should have been a proper structured state visit. We would have welcomed it," Anand Sharma, a Congress Party spokesman said.

Members of the Indian Youth Congress in New Delhi also staged a protest against the visit, during which they burned an effigy of Modi.

Indian PM Modi makes surprise visit to Pakistan
A member of the Indian Youth Congress shouts slogans as he burns a portrait of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to protest against his visit to Pakistan in New Delhi, India, Dec 25, 2015. (AP Photo/Altaf Qadri)

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