Pak’s FM Bilawal Bhutto to attend SCO meeting in India on May 4-5

Islamabad: Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari would participate in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) meeting in India next month, Pakistan’s Foreign Office announced on Thursday, a development that could provide an opportunity to break the ice between the two neighbours.

Foreign Office spokesperson Mumtaz Zahrah Baloch announced the decision at a weekly media briefing here.

“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,” she said, ending weeks-long speculation if he would attend the conference in person amidst major differences between the two nuclear-armed neighbours.

She said the Pakistan foreign minister would be attending the meeting as External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar had invited him to attend the SCO moot.

“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,” Baloch said.

It would be the highest-level visit to India by any Pakistani leader in recent years and a possible opportunity to break the ice between the two nations.

The ties between India and Pakistan came under severe strain after India’s warplanes pounded a Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorist training camp in Pakistan’s Balakot in February 2019 in response to the Pulwama terror attack.

The relations further deteriorated after India announced the withdrawal of Jammu and Kashmir’s special powers and the bifurcation of the erstwhile state into Union territories in August 2019.

India has been maintaining that it desires normal neighbourly relations with Pakistan while insisting that the onus is on Islamabad to create an environment free of terror and hostility for such an engagement.

Then Pakistani foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar visited India in 2011. In May 2014, then-Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif visited India to attend Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s swearing-in ceremony.

In December 2015, then external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj visited Pakistan and days later, Modi made a brief visit to the neighbouring country.

The SCO was founded at a summit in Shanghai in 2001 by the presidents of Russia, China, the Kyrgyz Republic, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

Over the years, it has emerged as one of the largest trans-regional international organisations.

India and Pakistan became permanent members of the Beijing-based SCO in 2017.