• FO confirms minister will attend SCO summit in Goa next month
• No word on whether he will meet Indian premier or his counterpart

ISLAMABAD: Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari will be the first Pakistani foreign minister to visit India in nearly 12 years, as the Foreign Office confirmed on Thursday that he would attend a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in Goa next month.

This is also the first time since 2016 that the most senior Foreign Office representative would visit India.

Mr Bhutto-Zardari will be leading the Pakistan delegation to the SCO Council of Foreign Ministers (CFM), which will take place in the Indian city of Goa on May 4 and 5, Foreign Office spokesperson Mumtaz Zahrah Baloch announced at a weekly media briefing.

She said the foreign minister would be attending the meeting at the invitation of his Indian counterpart Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, who currently heads the foreign ministers’ council of SCO, which is a regional political and security bloc whose members include Russia, China, India and Pakistan.

“Our participation in the meeting reflects Pakistan’s commitment to the SCO charter and processes and the importance that Pakistan accords to the region in its foreign policy priorities,” Ms Baloch said.

She recalled that Mr Bhutto-Zardari also attended the last year’s meeting of the SCO foreign ministers’ council held in Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan.

Ms Baloch, however, did not confirm if the foreign minister was to meet Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi or his Indian counterpart. She also did not reveal the composition of the Pakis­tani delegation and the exact duration of Mr Bhutto-Zardari’s stay in India.

“I have always said that when decisions are taken, we will make formal announcements. Now that this decision has been taken, we will be making preparations for the visit,” she said to a question at the briefing.

“In the coming days, as decisions are taken, we will be making further announcements. I must underline, however, that the upcoming visit of the foreign minister is not a bilateral visit but a visit in the SCO context,” she said.

Mr Bhutto-Zardari’s India visit will be the first by a Pakistani foreign minister in nearly 12 years. In 2011, the then top Pakistani diplomat, Hina Rabbani Khar, visited India. In 2016, Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhry travelled to India on a daylong visit.

Bilawal to seek parties’ input

Separately, Foreign Minister Bhutto-Zardari also confirmed that he would be attending the upcoming SCO moot in India, according to a Dawn.com report.

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

He said his participation in the conference would illustrate Pakistan’s commitment to SCO rules. He said that since he would be representing the country, he would be contacting all political parties prior to his departure to seek their input.

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

Sudan chaos

Regarding the “worrying” developments in Sudan, Ms Baloch told the briefing that the Foreign Office was closely monitoring the safety and security of the Pakistani community present there.

Last week, violence erupted in Sudan between the forces of two generals who seized power in a 2021 coup. The Pakistani embassy in Khartoum was hit by three bullets last week and the chancery building was damaged as well.

The number of Pakistanis in Sudan was somewhere around 1,500. “Our Embassy has advised them to stay indoors for their own safety in view of the developments that are taking place in the country right now,” she said.

CPEC ‘crown jewel’

When asked to comment on the impression that the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), initially termed a ‘game-changer’, appeared to have become a burden for Pakistan, Ms Baloch said the multibillion-dollar infrastructure project was the crown jewel of Pakistan-China economic collaboration.

“It is an important project to which both Pakistan and China are fully committed. We believe that CPEC has provided enormous benefits to the people of Pakistan,” she said.

She said the energy projects that have come on line as a result of Chinese investments under the CPEC framework demonstrated their importance for Pakistan’s economy and its development.

Similarly, the people of Pakistan were already benefiting from the road infrastructure and the motorway projects developed under CPEC, she said, adding that anyone who travelled on these roads could appreciate the economic significance of these infrastructure projects.

She said the development of Gwadar Port was also a major achievement under CPEC. “We believe that all these projects are contributing and have the potential to further contribute to Pakistan’s development and prosperity,” she said.

Published in Dawn, April 21st, 2023



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