Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari on Friday held bilateral meetings with foreign ministers of all member states of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in Tashkent, except his Indian and Russian counterparts.

A meeting with India’s S Jaishanker was not on the cards but no bilateral meeting with Russia’s Sergei Lavrov raised eyebrows as talks between Pakistan and Russian diplomats at the sidelines of such regional forums were a routine.

Significantly, the Foreign Office in a statement earlier announced that Foreign Minister Bilawal would be holding bilateral meetings with foreign ministers of China, Russia and other SCO members, except India. But there was no meeting between Bilawal and Lavrov though the former met foreign ministers of all other member states.

It said that Bilawal and Lavrov did interact informally over dinner for SCO foreign ministers but because of time constraints no bilateral meeting could be scheduled.

Given the recent developments and Russia being at the centre of domestic political situation in Pakistan, both sides skipping a bilateral meeting cannot be ignored altogether.

Had the meeting taken place between Pakistani and Russian foreign ministers, this would have been the first high-level interaction between the two countries since the change of government in Islamabad in April.

Pakistan’s relationship with Russia was at the heart of controversy when former prime minister Imran khan was removed from power through a vote of no confidence earlier this year.

Meanwhile, Bilawal asserted that Pakistan has no plans of holding any bilateral meeting with India.

“There are no plans of any meetings between Indian and Pakistani prime ministers in September,” Bilawal said, adding that both countries are part of the SCO and the two countries are only engaged in the context of the broad-based activities of the organisation.

The foreign minister said: “India is our neighbour. While one can decide on a lot of things, one cannot choose its neighbours, therefore, we should get used to living with them.”

Bilawal recalled that after 2019, constructive dialogue with India became difficult, while statements based on Islamophobia by Indian officials are further creating hurdles in dialogue.

The foreign minister maintained: “We are trying to find economic opportunities for our people”.

The government is committed to improving economic ties with all the countries, including the US, he added.

When asked about criticism by Imran Khan of the coalition government for its alleged weak relations with the US, the foreign minister said: “There is no truth to his claims.”

“Khan tried to strengthen relations with Washington when he was in power,” he said, adding: “What is our fault if he failed to boost ties with the US?”

Taking to Twitter, Bilawal shared his experience of his first interaction at the SCO-CFM in Tashkent.

“My first interaction at the SCO-CFM in Tashkent. Emphasised organisation’s important role [and] reiterated [Pakistan’s] commitment to collective efforts in achieving regional peace [and] economic prosperity,” he wrote.


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