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India PM Narendra Modi leaves Lahore after surprise Pakistan visit

Narendra Modi has just left Lahore after a surprise visit to the Pakistani city - the first by an Indian prime minister in the last ten years. Modi was on his way back to New Delhi after trips to Moscow and Kabul.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi left Pakistan's eastern city on Friday after "infusing a positive spirit in the neighborhood," the spokesman of India's Ministry of External Affairs, Vikas Swarup, said on Twitter.

Earlier, Pakistani television showed footage of the Indian prime minister landing in Lahore's Allama Iqbal airport and being received by his Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif. The Asian News International (ANI) news agency tweeted this video.

Both leaders then made their way to Sharif's helicopter, which flew them to the Pakistani premier's residence in Lahore. Modi had taken the region by surprise on Friday when he announced his surprise meeting with Sharif. The Indian PM was on his way back to New Delhi after meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow and stopping over in Kabul to address the Afghan parliament.

Jubilation and gibes on Twitter

Pakistan's civil society activists like Nighat Dad praised the Indian prime minister for his attempts to resurrect relations between the two countries.

Pakistani analyst Mosharraf Zaidi called Modi a "genius" who had seized the "baton of initiative" and strengthened ties with the neighboring country and fellow nuclear power.

Renowned Indian journalist and publisher N. Ram also praised Modi's efforts to meet Sharif, who was also celebrating his 66th birthday.

However, Modi's critics - mostly Indians - were not far behind in questioning their prime minister's real motive. Indian journalist Rahul Kanwal tweeted this picture of Modi and Sharif, calling it "Love in Lahore" and asking whether the two leaders were now friends for life.

The Indian opposition criticized Modi's style of announcing the visit on Twitter. "India and Pakistan relations are not so good as yet that he stops over… Why were the parliament and country kept in the dark," Congress spokesman Ajoy Kumar asked reporters.

Better ties in the future?

In his speech to the Afghan parliament that indicated the importance of better ties with Pakistan, Modi said, "We know that Afghanistan's success will require the cooperation and support of each of its neighbors. And, all of us in the region, India, Pakistan, Iran and others, must unite… behind this common purpose." The Indian prime minister also said that peace in Afghanistan would be achieved only when terrorism no longer flowed across the border.

Ties between the neighbors seemed to have revived after Modi invited Sharif to his swearing-in ceremony as India's prime minister last year in May. However, the initial euphoria slowed down, with both sides later exchanging fire across the disputed border in Kashmir. Yet talks between the two countries' foreign ministers began some weeks ago and Modi and Sharif met briefly on the sidelines of the Paris climate summit earlier this month.

The two nations have fought three wars since 1947, since former colonial rulers Britain divided the subcontinent into Hindu-majority India and the Muslim-majority Pakistan.

mg/msh (AFP, AP, Reuters, PTI, dpa)

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