At 21 degrees Celsius, the weather in Bishkek was cool, away from the heat of Delhi and Islamabad. And with a spectacular view of the Kyrgyz Ala-Too mountain range, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan were in the same room for about nine hours over two days, but the shoulder could not have been colder.
Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi summed it up. Asked how much time the two Prime Ministers spent with each other, he told The Indian Express, “I didn’t have a stopwatch.” Qureshi was the first official to confirm that the leaders met saying, “They exchanged pleasantries and shook hands.” He also told Pakistani media that Khan congratulated Modi on his election victory.
Separately, the Indian government sources, too, said Modi “exchanged usual pleasantries with Pakistan PM Imran Khan in the leaders’ lounge”. But they were also emphatic that there was “no meeting, no pull aside”.
And when Modi met Chinese President Xi Jinping Thursday, he told him that he has made efforts to initiate peace with Pakistan, but that his efforts have been “derailed”.
Modi, who met Xi for a bilateral meeting, also said Pakistan needs to create an atmosphere “free of terrorism”, but at this stage, Delhi has not seen that from Islamabad’s side.
Earlier, though Islamabad gave overflight clearance, Modi chose to not fly over Pakistan’s airspace on his way to Bishkek in a bid to make a point over Pakistan’s airspace closure.
Incidentally, while Modi stayed at the Orion Hotel in central Bishkek, all other SCO leaders, including Khan stayed at the Al Archa Presidential Palace of the Kyrgyz President Sooronbay Jeenbekov. It meant Modi and Khan stayed at least 30 km away from each other.
That the Prime Minister was keeping away from Khan was evident at a round table dinner of eight leaders at the famous Frunze restaurant Thursday evening. Then, separated by at least two leaders and almost facing each other, Modi and Khan exchanged no pleasantries.
“Koi dua-salaam nahin hua (there was no exchange of pleasantries),” a source had told The Indian Express, after the dinner. They didn’t speak at a gala concert at the Kyrgyz National Philharmonic either.
Even in the group photograph Friday morning at the Presidential Palace, the two leaders stood separated by four leaders in between, including Xi and Russian President Vladimir Putin.