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India invites Pak FM Bilawal Bhutto Zardari to SCO meeting days after Sharif’s call for peace

Edited by: Shankhyaneel Sarkar

Last updated: January 25, 2023, 8:17 AM IST

If Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif decides to send his Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari to Goa for the SCO meeting, it will open an opportunity for bilateral ties to resume (Photo: Reuters)

If Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif decides to send his Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari to Goa for the SCO meeting, it will open an opportunity for bilateral ties to resume (Photo: Reuters)

It is now up to Islamabad to use the meeting in Goa to improve bilateral relations between India and Pakistan

India contacted Islamabad earlier this month and invited Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari to visit Goa in May to attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) foreign ministers’ meeting, the Indian Express said in a report.

The report pointed out that the invitation comes days after Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif admitted that Pakistan wants to live in peace with India and has learned its lesson from three wars.

The Indian Express report said the tentative dates for the visit are May 4 and May 5. It also said that if Pakistan accepts the invitation, it will be the first time in 12 years that a foreign minister from neighboring India will visit after Hina Rabbani Khar, who visited in 2011.

The foreign ministers of China and Russia will also be invited, along with Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. This also means that Qin Gang, China’s new foreign minister, will also visit Goa in May.

However, if Pakistan accepts the invitation and Zardari visits Goa in May, it will be an important step as relations between the two countries are at an all-time low.

A person familiar with the developments told the paper that the invitation was sent in line with India’s Neighborhood First Policy and a desire to have normal, friendly relations with India.

The person told the paper that India remains consistent in its stance that issues between the two countries should be resolved in a bilateral setting, peacefully and by not allowing an atmosphere of terror and violence.

However, India made it clear that the aim is to create an environment conducive to free and peaceful discussion. India will never compromise on national security issues and if there are any attempts to threaten India’s territorial integrity, strong action will be taken.

India invited Pakistani Foreign Minister Sartaj Aziz in 2015, but after the Foreign Minister expressed his desire to meet the Hurriyat, former Union Foreign Minister the late Sushma Swaraj and the Indian government were forced to visit because Aziz did not want to cancel the meeting.

The last Indian foreign minister to visit Pakistan was also the late Sushma Swaraj, who attended the December 2015 Heart of Asia conference in Islamabad.

Bilateral relations then took a nosedive following the attacks in Pathankot, Uri and Pulwama. Pakistan was furious after the repeal of Article 370 in J&K and relations collapsed as cross-border trade, trade agreements and diplomatic ties were broken.

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan also took a hard line, but the Bhuttos and Zardaris changed their position, albeit not visibly. However, it should be noted that earlier in 2022, the Foreign Minister made lewd remarks about Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The Indian Express The report also highlights that under the current regime, the ceasefire along the LoC has held and religious pilgrimages have also continued and meetings related to the Indus Waters Treaty have been held and the treaty adhered to.

If Pakistan accepts the invitation, there is a chance that there will be a chance to discuss peace and restore bilateral relations.

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