NEW DELHI / ISLAMABAD: Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari will leave for Goa today (Thursday) to attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Council of Foreign Ministers meeting — a visit that has stirred mixed emotions in India, particularly given his cutting remarks on Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s communal politics and harsh treatment of India’s minorities.
This will be the first visit to India by a foreign minister of Pakistan since July 2011, when then-foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar visited for peace talks.
“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,” the Foreign Office said in a statement.
Mr Bhutto-Zardari’s visit comes at a time when the relationship between the two nuclear-armed arch rivals has nosedived over a combination of factors.
Meetings with ministers from ‘friendly countries’ on the cards; Indian media sees little chance of ‘bilateral breakthrough’ during SCO summit
Pakistan has already made it clear that the foreign minister during his visit will not hold any bilateral meeting with his Indian counterpart.
Mr Bhutto-Zardari has also dismissed speculations surrounding his upcoming trip, saying it should not be interpreted as a sign of improved bilateral ties between the two neighbouring countries.
He clarified that he had not requested for a meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, emphasising that the visit should be seen in the context of the SCO, which is an eight-member political and security bloc that also includes Russia and China. He stressed that Pakistan cannot allow India to further isolate it.
In addition to deliberating upon important regional and international issues and signing some of the institutional documents, the Council of Foreign Ministers will finalise the agenda and decisions to be adopted by the 17th SCO Council of Heads of State Meeting, scheduled to take place in New Delhi on July 3-4, 2023.
The foreign minister is also expected to meet with his counterparts from friendly countries on the sidelines of the meeting.
India has also sent invitations to the foreign ministers of China and Russia along with other Central Asian countries. Iran is the newest member of the organisation and it will, for the first time, attend the SCO meeting as a full member.
View from Delhi
The visit where foreign ministers of China and Russia would be participating along with other member states makes it an occasion to review the global situation, which is spiraling out of control, chiefly given the war in Ukraine. But India and Pakistan have a canny way of upstaging the global agenda.
The inevitable surprises between the two are lurking in the wings; there are the usual homilies and genuine words of encouragement for a rapprochement, that could start with a talk between the Indian and Pakistani foreign ministers, analysts say.
“Dialogue should continue even when neighbouring countries are not on good terms with each other,” writes Sudheendra Kulkarni, the inveterate peace activist. “The alternative to talking is fighting wars, and wars have consequences that are rarely positive,” he notes.
“But if you think this will mark the resumption of long-stalled dialogue between India and Pakistan, and thus break the ice in their frozen relations, you will be disappointed,” Mr Kulkarni wrote in a write up for NDTV.
So why have Indian and Pakistani governmental attitudes become so inflexible as to leave no scope for readiness to avail even rare opportunities? India Today’s analysis may offer an insight.
“Bilawal’s arrival in Goa, five days ahead of the Karnataka elections, gives no succour to hopes of a bilateral breakthrough,” says V. Sudarshan in an analysis piece.
The Agra Summit took place in the shadows of crucial elections in Uttar Pradesh, which the BJP later lost.
Mr Bhutto-Zardari’s visit comes at a time when the stated Pakistani position is that there can be no serious bilateral engagement with India as long as the abrogation of Article 370, in 2019, is not revoked.
“This is a story as well. If Bilawal still washes up in Goa, it is a sign that realpolitik has triumphed over posturing once again,” says Sudarshan.
Published in Dawn, May 4th, 2023