Pakistan PM, FM’s visit to India for SCO summit fuels hopes about better ties

India has invited Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif to the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit meeting, which is likley to be held in May this year. If Sharif visits India, it will be the first time a Pakistani leader will visit the country in nine years. Sharif’s  brother, Nawaz Sharif, was the last Pakistani prime minister to visit India in 2014 for the swearing-in of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Earlier this week, Pakistan Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto was sent a formal invite from India’s External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar through the Indian High Commission in Islamabad to visit Goa for the SCO meeting in the first week of May for the meeting.

India’s invitation to Mr Zardari to participate in a meeting of foreign ministers of eight SCO countries has sparked speculation about a potential easing of relations between the two nuclear-armed estranged neighbours. “The visits by Pakistan’s PM and foreign minister provide an opportunity for re-engagement between India and Pakistan. Going by latest messaging by Mr Sharif, this an opportunity for resetting India-Pakistan relations, which are going through one of its worst phases,” said Manish Chand, foreign policy analyst and Director, Centre for Global India Insights (CGII), a think tank focused on global affairs.

The relations between India and Pakistan have been icy for years, particularly with regard to cross-border terrorism and abrogation of Article 370 by India, which abolished the special status of Jammu and Kashmir.

If Pakistan accepts, Bilawal would be its first foreign minister to visit India after a gap of nearly 12 years. The last foreign minister to visit India was Hina Rabbani Khar in July 2011. The SCO foreign ministers’ meeting is expected to take place in Goa on May 4-5, 2023.

This initiative comes after Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s interview to Al Arabiya in which he stated that, “We have learnt our lesson, and we want to live in peace with India”. “We have had three wars with India, and they have only brought more misery, poverty, and unemployment to the people.  “India is our neighbour country, we are neighbours. Let’s be very blunt, even if we are not neighbours by choice we are there for ever and it is up to us for us to live peacefully and progress or quarrel with each other and waste time and resources. That is up to us,” Mr Sharif said in the interview.

India took over the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) presidency last year at the SCO Samarkand Summit and it will be hosting it for the first time ever in 2023.

The 20-year-old Eurasian organisation has Russia, India, China, Pakistan and four Central Asian countries Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan as its members. Iran is the newest country to become a member of the SCO.

Formal invitations have already been sent to all member countries.

However, there seems to be a mixed reaction from the opposition to this invitation to Pakistan’s foreign minister.

Priyanka Chaturvedi, Member of Parliament and Deputy leader of Shiv Sena, tweeted, “Just a few days ago the Foreign Minister of Pakistan had called India a country that creates problem for Pakistan in Baluchistan, called itself victims of terror, called the PM the butcher of Gujarat. Now, India invites him for the SCO meet in Goa in May,” she said, slamming the BJP for its ‘hypocrisy’ and ‘Aman ki Asha’ (meaning hope of harmony between the two nations).

Pakistan is in economic turmoil today. It has the worst food crisis, power cuts and fuel shortages.

Pakistan also faces a growing terror threat from its Afghan border, where despite having a friendly regime in control, there are clashes involved with Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan fighters, as quoted by The Hindu.

(Shruti Saxena contributed inputs for this article)

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