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Modi Makes Surprise Visit To Pakistan

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (center right) is welcomed by his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif at Lahore airport on December 25.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (center right) is welcomed by his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif at Lahore airport on December 25.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made a surprise trip to Pakistan, his first visit to India’s longtime regional rival since being elected last year.

The previously unannounced visit is seen by analysts as a sign of thawing relations between the two nuclear-armed neighbors.

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif hugged Modi after he landed at the airport in the eastern city of Lahore on December 25 before they boarded a helicopter for Sharif's nearby estate, state television showed.

The visit coincided with Sharif's birthday and the wedding of his granddaughter.

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

Pakistani Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry told reporters that Sharif and Modi held a meeting in a "cordial and positive atmosphere."

Chaudhry termed Modi's visit a "gesture of good will" and hoped that it would help resolve their outstanding issues when the two sides resume talks in the near future.

Relations have begun to warm between the two longtime regional rivals in recent months and both have agreed to resume peace talks.

Late last month, the two leaders had a brief conversation at the climate change talks in Paris and earlier this month, the national security advisers of both countries met in Bangkok.

Sharif's spokesman told the Reuters news agency that the two leaders would discuss a variety of bilateral issues, including the disputed region of Kashmir.

Pakistan and India have fought three wars, two over Kashmir, since the end of British colonial rule on the subcontinent in 1947.

The contested Himalayan region is divided between the two countries but claimed by both in its entirety.

Mistrust runs deep between the two nuclear-armed neighbors.

India has accused Pakistan of training and providing arms to insurgents fighting for Kashmir’s independence from India or a merger with Pakistan.

Frequent skirmishes continue to take place along their shared border in Kashmir and both countries often exchange fire despite a 2003 cease-fire.

Since 1989, more than 68,000 people have been killed in the violence.

India also took offense when earlier this year Pakistani authorities freed Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, the alleged mastermind of deadly attacks that killed 166 people in the Indian city of Mumbai in 2008.

India called his release an "insult" to the victims.

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Earlier in the day Modi also visited Kabul, where he met Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and inaugurated a new parliament complex in Kabul built with Indian help.

In his address to the Afghan parliament Modi called for closer cooperation between Afghanistan’s neighbors.

"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," Modi said.

With reporting by AP and AFP

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