Pakistan contemplates SCO participation in India

SCO meetup 2023

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has begun in-house consultations to decide whether to attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) meetings of the defence and foreign ministers in India since New Delhi has already extended invitations to Defense Minister Khawaja Asif and Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, Tribune reported.

The defence ministers’ meeting is scheduled in April in New Delhi while foreign ministers would meet in May in Goa.
India is the current president of the eight-nation SCO is holding a series of events. Barring one event where Pakistan was denied entry over a map controversy, Islamabad has attended all other events, including the chief justices’ conference and meeting of energy ministers via video link, Tribune reported.

India denied Pakistan’s participation in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) seminar on armed forces’ contributions to military medicine, healthcare and pandemics, held in New Delhi on March 21.

India objected to the map used by the Pakistani side, showing Jammu and Kashmir as its territory. After the matter came to the Indian external affairs ministry’s notice, the Pakistani side was asked to show the “correct map” or to stay away from the seminar.

Tribune reported that the Pakistani delegation chose to stay away while Pakistan media sources in Islamabad said India effectively withdrew the invitation. A three-member Pakistan military delegation headed by a brigadier attended the meeting of an expert working group under the Council of Defence Ministers in person in New Delhi on Thursday, Tribune reported.

The presence of the Pakistani delegation in New Delhi has raised the possibility of defence and foreign ministers travelling to the neighbouring country. While the Foreign Office (FO) spokesperson insisted that the final decision would be taken closer to the events, sources said that in-house consultations are already underway, Tribune reported.

The authorities are currently divided over attending high-profile meetings. One view is that given the current state of the relationship with Pakistan if required, only junior officials could be sent to the SCO meetings. But the others do not agree with this, Tribune reported.

They believe that Pakistan must not leave such key regional forums unattended, and since SCO comprises powerful countries, including Russia and China, Pakistan must use this opportunity to advance its interests.

Sources said that a lot will depend on China. If China, being the founding member of SCO that played a key role in making Pakistan its full-time member, asks Islamabad to attend the meetings it would be difficult for the government to ignore the advice.

Pakistan and India were accepted as full members of the SCO after both sides committed not to undermine regional focus by bringing up their bilateral issues, Tribune reported. Given this, in mind, it would be extremely difficult for Pakistan to stay away from the SCO gatherings altogether.

Sources said that Foreign Minister Bilawal was keen to go to India for the SCO meeting. If Pakistan attends the defence and foreign ministers’ meetings. it is possible that Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif may also go to India in July for the SCO summit.

The relationship between Pakistan and India remains at a standstill despite efforts in recent times to normalise ties. If Pakistan sends a high-powered delegation to India for SCO, it may break the ice though it may not bring any dramatic change in the bilateral ties.

Sources said the final decision about Pakistani participation in SCO ministerial meetings and a summit would be taken after due diligence. It would also depend on the political situation in Pakistan, they added, Tribune reported. (ANI)