Slim chance of Bilawal, Jaishankar handshake



ISLAMABAD:

Foreign ministers of Pakistan and India will be under one roof when they attend the meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in Tashkent scheduled for Thursday and Friday. 

This will be the first time Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and his Indian counterpart S Jaishankar will be facing eye-to-eye. There has, however, been no confirmation from either side if the two leaders will have any bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the SCO conference.

Foreign Minister Bilawal, while joining the cabinet, did express the desire to seek re-engagement with India but observers on both sides are sceptical whether the current environment would provide any opportunity for interaction between the two. “Nevertheless, an informal interaction or handshake cannot be ruled out,” claimed sources. 

Relations between the two nuclear rivals have remained standstill for the last few years and the real dip in ties came in August 2019 when India revoked the special status of the disputed Jammu and Kashmir territory. 

Read: State organs should act within constitutional domain, says PM Shehbaz

Since then the two sides have downgraded diplomatic ties and suspended bilateral trade. Both the sides have often blamed the other for the stalemate. Islamabad insists it is ready for talks but for that New Delhi will have to reverse the changes it brought in the Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir. 

India, meanwhile, is adamant that talks can only take place in an environment free from “terror.” 

Since the change of government in Islamabad, there has been some optimism in breaking the ice in the relationship but the current fragility of the government led by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has diminished the chances of any thaw. 

Meanwhile, Bilawal and Jaishankar will be joined by foreign ministers from other member states, including Russia, Iran and central Asian states to discuss a range of regional and international issues. 

A statement issued by the Foreign Office said, the SCO foreign ministers would deliberate upon important regional and international issues as well as approve the decisions and documents to be presented to heads of states at the SCO summit in Samarkand in September 2022. 

The foreign minister will also hold bilateral meetings with a number of his counterparts from the member states on the sidelines.

“The SCO’s major objectives include promoting mutual confidence and good-neighbourly relations among member states; strengthening regional peace, security and stability; and creating a framework for effective cooperation in the political sphere, trade and economy, culture, science and technology, education, energy, transportation and connectivity, tourism, and environmental protection,” according to the Foreign Office readout. 

It said Pakistan views the SCO as an important trans-regional multilateral forum for further enhancement of our deep-rooted historical and cultural links with member states, providing these ties a sound economic foundation, and promoting Pakistan as a regional trade and transit corridor. 

Besides Pakistan, the SCO member states include China, India, Kazakhstan, Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
Meanwhile, senior officials of the neighbours of Afghanistan plus Russia held a breakfast meeting in Tashkent to discuss the current Afghan situation. 

The immediate neighbours’ format was initiated by Pakistan in September 2021 and held foreign ministers and special representatives’ levels meeting in Islamabad, Tehran and Tunxi. Uzbekistan will hold the next meeting foreign ministers meeting.

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Originally published at tribune.com.pk

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