By: Chandrashekar Bhat
Pakistan’s foreign minister, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, arrived in India Thursday (4) to take part in an international conference, the first official visit by a senior Pakistani official to India since 2016.
Bhutto Zardari is in Goa for a Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) meeting of foreign ministers, along with counterparts from China and Russia.
“I am very happy that today I have arrived here leading the delegation of Pakistan,” he told reporters.
He gave no indication whether he would hold one-on-one talks with India’s foreign minister, but said he hoped the SCO meeting would be “very successful”.
Pakistan suspended trade and diplomatic ties with India in 2019, when New Delhi imposed direct rule on the part of Kashmir it controls and enforced a heavy security lockdown.
Both countries withdrew their top diplomats and several consular staff were expelled or withdrawn in tit-for-tat measures.
That development came after a military standoff earlier in the year – also centred over Kashmir – that saw both countries launch air strikes and an Indian fighter jet shot down.
The most recent visit to India by a high-ranking Pakistan diplomat was in 2016, when Sartaj Aziz – then the senior foreign affairs adviser to the prime minister – travelled there.
India currently holds the rotating presidency of the SCO, a forum established in 2001 that also includes several Central Asian states, rivalling Western institutions.
India’s foreign minister S Jaishankar met his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, ahead of Friday’s (5) meeting to discuss ties and “current global and regional agenda topics”, a statement from Moscow said.
Jaishankar also sat down with Chinese foreign minister Qin Gang on Thursday, a week after the defence ministers of both nations met in New Delhi to discuss military deployments on their disputed Himalayan border.
“Focus remains on resolving outstanding issues and ensuring peace and tranquillity in the border areas,” Jaishankar tweeted after the meeting.
The SCO is a political and security union of countries spanning much of Eurasia, including China, India and Russia.
Formed in 2001 by Russia, China and ex-Soviet states in Central Asia, the body has been expanded to include India and Pakistan.
The expansion of the group to include Iran and Belarus was one of the main items on the agenda of the one-day meeting in Goa on Friday, an Indian foreign ministry official said.
Lavrov and Qin will prepare the ground for an SCO summit in India in July that Russian president Vladimir Putin and Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping are expected to attend in person.
Iran and Belarus are expected to be inducted into the SCO at the New Delhi summit, an Indian foreign ministry official said. Kuwait, Myanmar, the United Arab Emirates and Maldives are likely to be included as dialogue partners, he added.