India has invited Pakistan Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto among other members to attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation 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, would also go out to Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif shortly.
The dates and venues for both meeting 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- 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 will be significant as they will bring the Pakistani leadership to India after a decade. It will also bring the Chinese leadership and Russian leadership to India in the same year as they are also invited for the G20 events.
India has already invited all G20 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 G20 and subsequently the SCO meeting, as is Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who was last here in last March.
India and China have had very few bilateral meetings since the April 2020 LAC standoff began, although in an unexpected gesture, Prime Minister Narendra Modi shook hands and spoke to Chinese President Xi Jinping at a G20 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 G20 summit slated for September, amidst the war in Ukraine.
Officials said 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 Prime Minister Narendra Modi including calling him the “butcher of Gujarat”, after he and External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar traded charges on terrorism on the sidelines of U.N. events in New York. This month, however, Pakistan PM Shehbaz Sharif gave an interview offering “serious” talks with India on “burning issues like Kashmir” and 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 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 Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was the last Pakistan PM to travel to India for PM Modi’s Swearing in in May 2014. From the Indian side, both former External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and PM 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.