WHERE bilateral efforts to improve relations fail in the Pakistan-India context, multilateral forums can offer a ‘safe’ space for dialogue to pursue peace.

In this perspective, the prospect of Pakistan’s participation in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit to be held in India later this year has brought up the possibility of forward movement where the currently frozen bilateral ties between the two countries are concerned.

Read: After UNSC prod, India to invite Imran to SCO moot

As reported, when asked whether the prime minister of this country would be invited to the SCO moot, an Indian external affairs ministry spokesman told the media that “all eight countries and four observers will be invited”, indicating in a rather lukewarm tone that Pakistan would be asked to participate.

Pakistan and India became full members of the SCO in 2017; the grouping — under the stewardship of Russia and China — brings together the Central Asian states as well as observers such as Iran and Afghanistan.

Though no miracles should be expected (the moribund status of Saarc is before us), were the prime minister to participate and interact with his Indian counterpart, perhaps the ice between Islamabad and New Delhi could be broken.

However, there should be no illusions; unless the core issues affecting the Pakistan-India relationship are addressed, a mere photo op between the two leaders will be of little use.

The Indian lockdown of Kashmir must top the agenda, as New Delhi should realise that its siege of the held region is destroying all chances of peace in the subcontinent. Further, Pakistan has valid concerns about the Islamophobic laws India has introduced to disenfranchise millions of its Muslim citizens. And the recent bellicose, anti-Pakistan statements by Indian generals have further poisoned the atmosphere. If there is to be peace, such jingoism must be reined in.

That said, the fact is that the only viable option for Pakistan and India to pursue is constructive dialogue that paves the way for peace. Irresponsible war talk and chest-thumping only serve shrill anti-peace lobbies; the people of the subcontinent deserve prosperity and friendship.

Let India extend a proper invitation to Pakistan with respect. Thereafter, the prime minister should take up the opportunity and try to take matters forward.

Pakistan has over the past few years taken several steps for peace, yet the response from the other side has been less than enthusiastic. The SCO summit can prove to be a chance to change things for the better.

Published in Dawn, January 18th, 2020

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