New York: Days of speculation ended with a wave across a table. Would Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif meet? Pundits, diplomats and journalists wondered. Or would they shake hands? Or have a “pull aside” – a quick conversation on the sidelines?
They finally got their answer at Modi’s last UN event about four hours before he left on Monday: They exchanged a couple of waves and smiles across the table at the Peacekeeping Summit convened by President Barack Obama. And that was it. Sharif waved first and Modi responded.
Modi and Sharif shared the same hotel, the Waldorf Astoria, but avoiding each other was easy. The hotel has several entrances and leaders’ entries and exits through driveways that lead right into the middle of the building are carefully orchestrated.
Some diplomatic gestures are carefully arranged. One of Modi’s diplomatic assignments listed for Monday included a “handshake/exchange of greeting” with Malta’s Prime Minister Joseph Muscat as Modi approaches his table. But the wave wasn’t.
When Modi and Sharif met on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Summit Ufa in Russia in July, they opened the possibilities of a de-freeze in ties between the two countries. However, the deep freeze has returned with firing across the border and the cancellation of the talks between the National Security Advisers.
Now, it’s time to decipher the nuances of the smiles and waves for clues to the next phase of diplomacy.