Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari arrived in Goa on Thursday to attend a conclave of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), becoming the first Pakistani foreign minister to visit India in almost 12 years even as there was no indication of a bilateral meeting with his Indian counterpart S Jaishankar.
Bhutto-Zardari’s visit to India to attend the SCO Council of Foreign Ministers (CFM) meeting comes amid continuing strain in ties between the two countries on a host of issues including Islamabad’s use of cross-border terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir.
The Pakistan foreign minister was received at the airport in Goa by JP Singh, the joint secretary heading the Pakistan-Afghanistan-Iran division at the external affairs ministry.
In 2011, Pakistan’s the then foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar visited India and held talks with her the then counterpart SM Krishna.
“I am very happy to reach Goa to lead the Pakistani delegation at the SCO Foreign Ministers meeting. I expect the SCO CFM meeting to be successful,” Bhutto-Zardari told reporters.
Though there was a buzz in the media about Bhutto-Zardari’s two-day visit to Goa, both the Indian and the Pakistani side appeared to keep each other at arm’s length.
People familiar with official engagements on the sidelines of the SCO conclave said there is no plan for a bilateral meeting between External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and Bhutto-Zardari so far as there was no request for it from the Pakistani side.
In a tweet with a caption ‘Salaam, from Goa India’, Bhutto-Zardari said: “Assalamualaikum, we have reached Goa for the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) meet”.
“I will first hold a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister. Then, will hold a meeting with Uzbekistan’s Foreign Minister. I will attend the dinner hosted for all the foreign ministers…,” he said in a short video.
In the evening, Bhutto-Zardari attended a gala reception hosted for the SCO foreign ministers by Jaishankar.
Before leaving for Goa, the Pakistani foreign minister said,”My decision to attend this meeting illustrates Pakistan’s strong commitment to the charter of the SCO.” “During my visit, which is focused exclusively on the SCO, I look forward to constructive discussions with my counterparts from friendly countries,” he said.
The Pakistan foreign minister’s visit to India is the first such trip from Islamabad since 2011 as Khar visited New Delhi that year. She is currently serving as the minister of state for foreign affairs.
In May 2014, former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif visited India to attend Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s swearing-in ceremony.
In December 2015, former External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj visited Pakistan, and days later Modi made a brief visit to that country.
The invitation to the Pakistan foreign minister to attend the SCO meeting was sent in January, days after Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif offered to hold bilateral talks between India and Pakistan.
In an interview with UAE-based Al Arabiya news channel, Sharif had said Pakistan has learnt its lesson after three wars with India and now it wants to live in peace with India, if “we are able to resolve our genuine problems.” However, Pakistan’s Prime Minister’s Office later said negotiations are not possible without India revoking its 2019 actions on Kashmir. 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.
The ties between India and Pakistan came under severe strain after India’s warplanes pounded a Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorist training camp in Balakot in Pakistan in February 2019 in response to the Pulwama terror attack.
The relations further deteriorated after India in August 2019 announced the withdrawal of special powers of Jammu and Kashmir and the bifurcation of the state into two union territories.
In a related development, Pakistan PM Sharif said his country’s decision to attend the SCO foreign meeting in India reflects its “commitment” to the SCO Charter and multilateralism as he asserted that his country was committed to playing its part to advance its shared values of peace and stability in the region.
“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 further said.