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Indian Prime Minister Makes Unannounced Visit To Pakistan

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (C-R) being welcomed by the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif (C-L), at the airport in Lahore on December 25.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has landed at Pakistan’s Lahore airport, the first visit by an Indian premier since 2004.

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif hugged Modi after he landed at the airport before they boarded a helicopter for Sharif’s nearby estate, state television showed.

The visit, which coincides with Sharif’s birthday, is seen by analysts as a sign of improving relations between the two countries.

Relations have begun to warm between the two longtime regional rivals in recent months.

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 Reuters 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 ceasefire.

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.

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 neighbours. And, all of us in the region -- India, Pakistan, Iran and others -- must unite ... behind this common purpose," Modi said.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, and dpa