India has invited Chief Justice of Pakistan Umar Atta Bandial and Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari to attend meetings of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) that also includes Russia and China.

India currently holds the presidency of the SCO which comprises Russia, China, India, Pakistan, Iran and Central Asian States. As president of the SCO, New Delhi is set to host a series of events, including a conference of the chief justices of member states, meeting of the foreign ministers and a summit in 2023.

The meeting of chief justices of the SCO is scheduled for March while the foreign ministers will meet in May.

Officials confirmed that India on Monday invited extended invitations to Chief Justice Umar Atta Bandial and Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari.

It is, however, not clear whether they will attend the events or depute someone to represent Pakistan.

Pakistan hasn’t yet responded to the Indian invite, according to officials in the foreign ministry.

Given the SCO is an important forum because of the presence of China and Russia, Pakistan is unlikely to stay out of the events.

Both Pakistan and India were accepted as full members of the influential organisation after they committed not to undermine the SCO work because of their bilateral disputes.

The meeting of the SCO foreign ministers is due to take place in Goa, a tourist destination in South India.

If the chief justice and the foreign minister travel to India for both the events, that would be seen as significant and would be first high-profile visits from Pakistan in many years.

The likely visit may not lead to any tangible outcome for the bilateral ties between the arch rivals, but will be considered as an ice-breaker.

India will also host the SCO summit meeting in August or September and is almost certain that Pakistan will be invited. If elections are held as per schedule in October, Pakistan will have a caretaker prime minister at the time of the SCO summit. So, even if the caretaker prime minister visits India he may not have the mandate to discuss bilateral issues with the Indian leadership.

Nevertheless, the visits, if they take place, may lay the ground for some kind of engagement between the two countries. Soon after the SCO summit, India is set to host the One-Day International Cricket World in October and November. The successful visits of Pakistani high-ups for the SCO summit will help Islamabad send men in green to the neighboring country for the world cup.

Relations between Pakistan and India have remained tense for many years now. There were some hopes of thaw in February 2021 when the two countries unexpectedly agreed to renew the ceasefire along the Line of Control (LoC).

New details recently surfaced claiming that in early 2021 Pakistan and India were discussing the possibility of a summit meeting between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Imran Khan.

DELHI WANTS GOOD TIES: Last week, India expressed the desire of “a neighborly relationship with Pakistan, but there should be an atmosphere that is free from terror, violence, and hostility.”

The comments came days after Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif sought “sincere” talks with India on “burning issues.”

“My message to the Indian leadership and Prime Minister Narendra Modi is that let us sit down on the table and have serious and sincere talks to resolve our burning issues, such as Kashmir,” Sharif said during an interview with Al Arabiya news channel aired earlier in the week.

Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman Arindam Bagchi said on January 18 that India always wanted neighborly relations with Pakistan, but it has to be in a conducive atmosphere, that doesn’t have “terror, violence, and hostility.”

“This is our position,” he said during a weekly press briefing.

The relations between the two arch-rival countries plummeted to a new low after August 2019, when India scrapped the longstanding special status of Jammu and Kashmir, resulting in Islamabad downgrading its diplomatic ties with New Delhi.


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