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India's Prime Minister Makes Surprise, Historic Visit To Pakistan

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif greets Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the airport in Lahore, Pakistan, on Friday.
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif greets Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the airport in Lahore, Pakistan, on Friday.

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a visit to Pakistan on Friday. It's the first trip to the country by an Indian head of state in a decade — and could be a sign of improving relations between the two neighbors.

The visit was unexpected. Earlier Friday, Modi tweeted from Afghanistan that he spoke with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and passed on birthday wishes. Minutes later he posted this:

Pakistan's Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhry said Sharif responded, "Please come, you are our guest, please come and have tea with me," Reuters reported.

India and Pakistan both claim the Kashmir region in the Himalaya Mountains, and each country possesses nuclear weapons. Raging violence in Kashmir has claimed tens of thousands of lives since 1989.

The leaders met briefly last month in Paris on the sidelines of the international conference on climate change.

There are few details so far about the substance of this visit, but we do know Modi arrived to a festive atmosphere. The Associated Press reported Sharif was celebrating his granddaughter's wedding, in addition to his 66th birthday:

"Sharif's sprawling residence had been colorfully decorated for his granddaughter's wedding reception when Modi arrived along with the Pakistani prime minister. The two leaders were later shown sitting together in a room looking happy and relaxed."

Local media reports say Modi has now returned to Delhi. They say that Modi touched Sharif's mother's feet, a gesture of enormous respect in the subcontinent. The reports also say that the late lunch included Modi's favorite dish, saag (spinach curry).

Indians and Pakistanis shared their thoughts about the milestone visit on Twitter using the hashtag #BirthdayDiplomacy.

What does this visit mean for Indian-Pakistani relations? Indian foreign policy expert Amitabh Matto, via AP, called it a positive step:

"Any step toward trying to stabilize and provide a new beginning to India-Pakistan ties is welcome and needs to be supported by all those who believe that India and Pakistan have a common destiny and it is in their interest to fight together their common problems, including terrorism and economic under-development."

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