India has invited Pakistan Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto, among other members, to attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Ministers meeting to be held tentatively in Goa in early May this year, officials confirmed. Invitations for the SCO summit, expected to be held in June this year, will also go out to Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif shortly.
The dates and venues for both meetings were discussed during the third meeting of the SCO coordinators in Varanasi on January 17, and previous meetings held in Delhi, led by Indian SCO national coordinator Yojna Patel. Pakistan’s SCO national coordinator took part in the Varanasi meeting virtually, although coordinators had travelled to India last year for previous meetings, including the SCO’s Regional Anti Terror Structure meet.
While the invitations for the SCO summit are considered a routine matter as India is chairing the SCO grouping this year, the events gain significance as they will bring the Pakistani leadership to India after a decade. They will also bring the Chinese and Russian leadership to India in the same year, as they are also invited for the G-20 events.
Chinese, Russian FMs invited
India has already invited all G-20 Foreign Ministers to the meeting on March 1-2, following which they have been invited to attend the annual MEA Raisina Dialogue conference. China’s newly appointed Foreign Minister Qin Gang is due to visit Delhi for both the G-20 and, subsequently, the SCO meeting, as is Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who was last here in March 2021.
India and China have had very few bilateral meetings since the April 2020 standoff at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) began, although in an unexpected gesture, Prime Minister Narendra Modi shook hands and spoke to Chinese President Xi Jinping at a G-20 event in Bali last November. All eyes will also be on the acceptance of Russian President Vladimir Putin to attend either the SCO summit expected in June, or the G-20 summit slated for September, amidst the war in Ukraine.
Officials said that the SCO Ministers meeting invitation was delivered to the Pakistani Foreign Ministry by the Indian High Commission in Islamabad, but it is still unclear whether Pakistan will accept the invitation, and at what level, indicating that either Mr. Bhutto or Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Hina Rabbani Khar would attend the meeting.
Last month, India had protested Mr. Bhutto’s derogatory comments about Mr. Modi, when he called the PM the “butcher of Gujarat”, after he and External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar traded charges on terrorism on the sidelines of UN events in New York. This month, however, Pakistan PM Shehbaz Sharif gave an interview offering “serious” talks with India on “burning issues like Kashmir”, admitting that Pakistan had “learnt lessons” from the three wars with India, and now seeks peace. In its response, the Ministry of External Affairs had said that India wishes for “good neighbourly relations” with Pakistan, provided an atmosphere free of terrorism and violence was provided.
In July 2011, Ms. Khar was the last Foreign Minister of Pakistan to visit India for a bilateral meeting, while Nawaz Sharif was the last Pakistan PM to travel to India for Mr. Modi’s swearing-in in May 2014. From the Indian side, both former External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Mr. Modi last visited Pakistan in December 2015. Since 2016, there have been no bilateral talks on outstanding issues between the two sides, although Cabinet Ministers visited the Pakistani town of Kartarpur for the construction of the corridor from the Kartarpur Gurudwara to India’s Baba Dera Nanak.