Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari met his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, on sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Council of Foreign Ministers meeting in the Indian city of Goa on Thursday, the Foreign Office (FO) said.
According to the FO, the two foreign ministers discussed bilateral, regional and international matters of mutual interest and assured each other of working closely to further deepen cooperation between their countries in the areas of food security, energy and people-to-people contact.
“The SCO opens new vistas of cooperation and coordination with Russia,” the FO statement said.
Later, the FO said that FM Bilawal also held a meeting with SCO Secretary General Zhang Ming and briefed him on “activities of the SCO in pursuance of the vision of SCO leadership”.
“The secretary general thanked the foreign minister for Pakistan’s consistent support to the SCO and appreciated its constructive contributions towards strengthening regular cooperation, connectivity, peace and prosperity,” it added.
Bilawal arrives in Goa
FM Bilawal reached Goa earlier today, primarily to attend the SCO’s Council of Foreign Ministers meeting.
In a video message on Twitter, Bilawal — the first foreign minister of Pakistan to head to India in over a decade — confirmed that he had reached Goa. “Salaam, from Goa India,” he said.
Bilawal said that he would first hold meetings with his counterparts from Russia and Uzbekistan, which will be followed by a formal dinner for all the foreign ministers at the SCO.
“I will give one or two interviews and that is the programme for today,” he added.
The SCO’s Council of Foreign Ministers meeting in Goa is scheduled to be held today and tomorrow.
Indian news agency ANI shared photos of Bilawal and Chinese counterpart Qin Gang in Goa.
Speaking to the media upon his arrival, the foreign minister said he was “happy” to be arriving in Goa for the SCO. He said that he expected the meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers to be “successful”.
Ahead of his departure, Bilawal said he was looking forward to “engaging bilaterally” countries that were part of the SCO.
“On my way to Goa, India. Will be leading the Pakistan delegation at the SCO Council of Foreign Ministers. My decision to attend this meeting illustrates Pakistan’s strong commitment to the charter of SCO,” he said on Twitter.
“During my visit, which is focused exclusively on the SCO, I look forward to constructive discussions with my counterparts from friendly countries,” he said.
In a video message alongside his tweet, the foreign minister also stated that he was looking forward to “engaging bilaterally” with countries that were part of the organisation.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said that Pakistan’s decision to attend the SCO meet reflected the country’s commitment to the organisation’s charter and multilateralism.
“We are committed to playing our part to advance our shared values of peace and stability in the region. We are all for win-win understandings based on connectivity, trade and mutually advantageous cooperation,” he said.
Bilawal’s trip is 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.
The visit comes at a time when the relationship between the two nuclear-armed arch-rivals has nosedived over a combination of factors.
Pakistan has already made it clear that the foreign minister during his visit will not hold any bilateral meeting with his Indian counterpart.
The foreign minister has also dismissed speculation 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.
PTI split over FM’s visit
Meanwhile, Bilawal’s predecessor Shah Mahmood Qureshi stated that the SCO was an important forum which Pakistan should make use of.
Speaking to the media outside the Islamabad High Court, he said: “Pakistan is a member of the SCO and the SCO is an important forum. If we want Eurasian political, economic and security integration then this is an important forum.”
He said Pakistan should make use of the forum in order to improve the region. “So if he (Bilawal) has gone for a multilateral forum, in my eyes there is no harm,” he said.
However, PTI’s Fawad Chaudhry “strongly” condemned Bilawal’s visit.
“Participation would have been possible on video but [the] problem is you people in love of Modi are ready to disregard atrocities committed by Modi janta in Kashmir, and hardships Muslims of India and minorities to make Modi janta happy,” he said, adding that Pakistan’s foreign policy was “dead by all definitions of the word”.
PTI’s Shireen Mazari said the “imported” foreign minister was desperate to go to Goa to “show his loyalty to Bajwa plan of appeasing US on Israel and India”.
“Despite insult by India of refusal to arrange bilateral meetings, he’s desperate to go!” she said.