BY HAMZA AMEER
Islamabad– In an important development, India has extended an invitation to Pakistan Defence Minister Khawaja Asif to attend the meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), slated to take place in New Delhi next month.
A formal invitation on the same was given to the Pakistan Foreign office by the Indian government.
While the SCO Defence Ministers’ meeting will be held in April, the bloc’s Foreign Ministers will gather in Goa in May.
India, as president of the SCO, is set to host a series of events, in which, member states including Russia, China, Pakistan, Iran and Central Asian States, will be taking active part and discussing matters of regional concerns, security, growth and relationship.
Earlier, India had extended a similar invitation to Pakistan Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial and a separate one to Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari to attend the meeting of Foreign Ministers and a meeting of SCO Chief Justices.
However, Bandial skipped the meeting and instead, Justice Muneeb Akhtar attended the meeting through a video link recently.
A decision on Bilawal’s visit is also pending, which many expect, will also be facilitated through a participation in the meeting through video link.
Diplomatic sources confirmed that the Pakistan government has not yet taken a decision on the invitations by India, adding that the decision would be taken at an appropriate time.
“We are expecting an invitation from India to Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif as well in the coming days to the SCO Summit. But it is still unclear if Pakistan will be part of those high-profile meetings or not,” said a source with knowledge of the development.
It is also important to note that SCO Summit is an important forum and ignoring Indian invitations for Pak Foreign Minister and Defence Minister would not be an easy decision to take.
It is likely that both ministers may respond positively to the invitations by attending the meetings through video link and would prefer to refrain from travelling to India for the same.
Both India and Pakistan were accepted as full members of the SCO after they committed to not undermine the bloc because of their bilateral disputes.
India-Pakistan relations have been tensed since February 2021 after India’s Balakot airstrike and Pakistan’s aggressive response downing an Indian Air Force (IAF) jet and capturing Wing Commander Abhinandan, who was later released and handed over to India as what Pakistan termed it as a “goodwill gesture”. (IANS)