Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari will attend a meeting of the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation (SCO) to be held in India next month, the Foreign Office said on Thursday.

“Bilawal Bhutto Zardari will be leading the Pakistan delegation to the SCO Council of Foreign Ministers (CFM) being held on May 4-5 2023, in Goa, India,” FO spokesperson Mumtaz Zahrah Baloch announced in a weekly media briefing today.

​She said the foreign minister would be attending the SCO CFM meeting at the invitation of the current chairman of SCO CFM, Minister for External Affairs of the Republic of India Dr S. Jaishankar.

Earlier in January, India had invited Pakistan’s foreign minister to the SCO meeting, signalling a possible thaw in relations between the nuclear-armed rivals. The invitation from Indian External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar had been delivered by the Indian High Commission in Islamabad.

India took over the rotating presidency of the eight-member grouping in September last year, and sent formal invitations to all the SCO-member countries, including Pakistan and China.

The invitation had come days after Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif had called for talks with India over all outstanding issues, including India-occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK), before clarifying that talks cannot take place until the “illegal actions of August 5, 2019” were reversed.

There has been a drought of bilateral visits, and Hina Rabbani Khar was the last Pakistani foreign minister to visit India in 2011.

After the Modi government abrogated Article 370 in India-held Jammu and Kashmir in 2019, the already strained Indo-Pak bilateral ties have been adversely affected.

The SCO currently has eight member countries (China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Pakistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan), four observer states interested in acceding to full membership (Afghanistan, Belarus, Iran, and Mongolia), and six “Dialogue Partners” (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cambodia, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Turkiye).

The Shanghai Five, which was formed in 1996, became the SCO in 2001 with the addition of Uzbekistan. The SCO expanded to become one of the largest multilateral organisations in the world, representing more than 30 per cent of the world’s GDP and 40 per cent of the world’s population, with the addition of India and Pakistan in 2017.

In the media briefing today, the FO spokesperson said that Pakistan’s participation in the SC meetings reflected the country’s commitment to the SCO Charters and processes and the importance Pakistan accorded to the region in its foreign policy priorities.

“Pakistan continues to participate in SCO meetings in keeping with our longstanding commitment to SCO,” Baloch stated.

She also said that Climate Change Minister Sherry Rehman had represented the country in the fourth SCO meeting of heads of ministries on environmental protection. “The meeting was held in an online format in New Delhi on April 18, 2023.”

“Yesterday director of the National Disaster Management Authority virtually attended the SCO meeting of the heads of agencies for prevention and elimination of emergency situations,” she added.

Will seek input of all parties before SCO moot: Bilawal

Separately, Bilawal also confirmed that he would be attending the upcoming SCO moot in India.

“It will be a gathering of foreign ministers and I will go there as a representative of Pakistan,” he said while addressing a press conference in Islamabad.

The foreign minister said his participation in the conference would illustrate Pakistan’s commitment to SCO rules.

He added that since he would be representing the country, he would be contacting all political parties prior to his departure to seek their input.

In response to a question about the possibility of discussing bilateral ties during the trip, Bilawal said that SCO rules and regulations clearly stated that the forum was not to be used for raising bilateral matters.

Pakistan envoy returns to Kabul

In her press briefing, the FO spokesperson also confirmed that Pakistan’s Head of Mission in Afghanistan, Ambassador Ubaid Nizamani, had returned to Kabul and resumed his responsibilities, after close consultation with the Afghan interim government.

“In his telephone conversation with Acting Afghan Foreign Minister Amir Khan Mutaqqi on April 15, FM Bilawal reiterated the necessity and responsibility of the Afghan interim government towards the safety and security of Pakistan’s diplomatic missions and personnel in Afghanistan,” she said.

In December last year, Pakistan’s embassy in Kabul came under attack, leaving one security guard critically injured. The FO had confirmed that Nizamani, who remained unhurt in the attack, was the target. The banned Islamic State group’s Khorasan chapter (IS-K) had claimed responsibility.

At the time, Nizamani was in Kabul for less than a month since he took over the charge as head of mission, replacing former ambassador Mansoor Ahmed Khan on November 4, 2022.

Sudan chaos

Regarding the “worrying” developments in Sudan, Baloch said the FO was closely monitoring the safety and security of the Pakistani community present there.

“Our Embassy in Sudan remains in close and constant contact with our community and will continue to facilitate them,” she added. “The well-being of Pakistanis remains a key priority of the Pakistani government and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.”

Last week, violence erupted between the forces of two generals who seized power in a 2021 coup: army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and his deputy, Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, who commands the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF).

The clashes, which have been raging for nearly a week now, have killed 200 people so far.

Amid the ongoing chaos, the Pakistani embassy in Khartoum was hit by three bullets last week and the chancery building was damaged as well. It has Pakistanis in Sudan to stay at home and avoid unnecessarily venturing out.



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