Pakistan's Foreign Minister Visits India for SCO Meeting Amid Frosty Relations and Uncertainty on Bilateral Engagement

Bhutto at SCO 2023

As Pakistan's foreign minister, Bilawal Bhutto, landed in Goa to attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) meeting, he broke a record by becoming the first Pakistani foreign minister to visit India in more than a decade. The question now is whether he will make history with this visit.

In a tweet, he said, "On my way to Goa, India. Will be leading the Pakistan delegation at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation CFM. My decision to attend this meeting illustrates Pakistan’s strong commitment to the charter of SCO. During my visit, which is focused exclusively on the SCO, I look forward to constructive discussions with my counterparts from friendly countries."

While bilateral meetings are scheduled on the sidelines of the meeting, it remains to be seen whether India and Pakistan will engage with each other. India has made its position clear on talks, stating that cross-border terrorism must end. In a visit to the Dominican Republic, Minister of External Affairs S. Jaishankar brought up the issue, stating that India pursues a diplomatic policy to engage all significant centers of power and multi-alignment to reflect the reality of multi-polarity except in two cases. "The exception to this of course is Pakistan in view of the cross-border terrorism that it supports," he said.

The relationship between the neighbors has reached an all-time low. Whether the SCO provides the format to break the ice, as it offers a space for regional connectivity, is debatable. Despite the excitement about the possibility of a slight thaw, the focus of the meeting will likely remain on Ukraine and its fallout. Unlike G20, which was stalled by diverging views on the conflict, with the SCO, apart from a neutral India, the sides are clear. The recent allegations by Russia about a drone attack on the Kremlin Senate building by Kyiv targeting Vladimir Putin will be discussed. The Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov was one of the first to arrive.

Another bilateral meeting to watch for is the one with China. China has announced that its foreign minister Qin Gang will meet with India's Minister of External Affairs S. Jaishankar, but it is unlikely that a breakthrough will occur given the current frosty nature of India-China relations. Jaishankar said on his visit to the Dominican Republic that China falls into a somewhat different category because of the boundary dispute and the currently abnormal nature of their ties. Qin Gang is expected to travel to Islamabad after the visit for a trilateral on Afghanistan, which India is not likely to appreciate.

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