India invites Pakistani home and defence ministers to meet on SCO sidelines

Indian Pakistani flags

India has invited Pakistan for a meeting of home ministers and also defence ministers and NSAs in the run up to the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit which is likely to take place in the first week of July.

The government will soon also send an invite to Pakistan PM Shehbaz Sharif for the SCO summit which will likely be attended by Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping. The invites, as official sources said, are only in keeping with the SCO Charter and have nothing to do with the bilateral ties that remain in a limbo. However, the upcoming slew of engagements under SCO, which is currently steered by India, may provide an opportunity to both countries to find a way out of the logjam in the relationship in the form of possible bilateral meetings on the sidelines, although there is no such formal proposal yet.

India and Pakistan launched the comprehensive bilateral dialogue process in December 2015 but that was derailed by the Pathankot airbase terror attack weeks later. Ties were further ravaged by the Uri attack in Jammu and Kashmir in 2016 that was carried out from across the LoC. Pakistan also recalled its high commissioner after India revoked the special status of Jammu and Kashmir in 2019. While the terror strikes put paid to the Saarc summit process, India has sought to ring-fence its SCO commitments from the vagaries of the bilateral relationship in a sign of the importance it attaches to the organisation. India continues to maintain that Pakistan is the epicenter of terrorism but the government has not just invited Pakistan for counter-terrorism exercises, but has also sent delegations to participate in similar exercises in Pakistan under SCO.

There's no proposal for a bilateral meeting with any visiting Pakistan leader on the sidelines, official sources said. What happens eventually will also depend on how Pakistan responds to the invites sent out by India to Pakistan, and indeed to all other member-states of the security-oriented Eurasian group which is working to ensure a peaceful, stable and economically prosperous Afghanistan , free from terrorism and extremism.

Pakistan foreign minister Bilawal Bhutto has so far not confirmed his participation in the meeting of the SCO foreign ministers that will take place in Goa in May. There's speculation though that Islamabad may send his junior minister Hina Rabbani Khar for the meeting that will held finalise the agenda for the summit. Pakistan participated only virtually in the meeting of the SCO chief justices this week.

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