Here’s why Pakistan should attend the SCO meeting of foreign ministers in India
India has invited Pakistan’s foreign minister to the Foreign Ministers’ meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) being held in Goa from 4-5 May, 2023. Pakistan has yet to decide if it will attend the meeting. There are convincing reasons for and against Pakistan’s participation. But on the whole, it is entirely appropriate for the foreign minister of Pakistan to personally attend.
Pakistan-India relations have hit rock bottom since the past four years. In August 2019, Pakistan decided to suspend trade with India and downgraded its representation in New Delhi following India’s decision to amalgamate the state of Jammu and Kashmir and revoke its special status. There are no high commissioners of the two sides in each other’s capitals. The visa regime on both sides is limited. Normal government to government contacts are minimal.
Since the advent of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government, the Indian leadership has consistently acted against minorities and especially the Muslims in India. Discriminatory behavior is now the norm there. India has shown scant regard for its secular credentials and is fast becoming a Hindu majoritarian state. Indian repression against Kashmiris and the effort to change the demography and cultural characteristics of erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir state are well documented.
Bilaterally the position of the two does not permit a high-level visit from Pakistan to India. But the SCO meeting is multilateral and Pakistan had assured the organisation that its position vis a vis India would not come in the way.
This has caused immense sorrow to the Pakistani people, who have consistently identified with the Kashmiris and have extended moral and diplomatic support to them. India has been indifferent to the sentiments of the people and arrogantly dismissive of the appeals of international human rights bodies.
India has also been dismissive of engagement with Pakistan especially on the Kashmir issue. The absence of dialogue among the two South Asian nuclear weapon states does not bode well for peace and security in the region. India-US defense partnership in the Indo-Pacific is targeted against China. India has been a recipient of the latest technology and weapon systems from the US. The Pakistan-India strategic hyphenation is a reality but is being ignored by the west.
So bilaterally the position of the two does not permit a high-level visit from Pakistan to India. But the fact is that the SCO meeting is multilateral and Pakistan had assured the SCO that its position vis a vis India would not come in the way of its cooperation. A similar assurance from India may also have been given. The SCO Foreign Ministers meeting is important and Iran and Saudi Arabia are likely to join the organization.
In a wider sense, the SCO has become a potent organization with the active participation of China and Russia along with central Asian states. Pakistan must look at the bigger picture and position itself accordingly. The fact is that regional relationships will continue to matter. Pakistan cannot escape its geography. Neither can India. By personally participating in the SCO meeting, the FM of Pakistan will affirm the importance that the country attaches to the organization.
In any case, the Goa meeting will provide an opportunity to get a sense of play with India. There may not be any bilateral meeting with the Indians but Pakistan will have the opportunity to meet with other foreign ministers including those of China and Russia.
Ideally, such events provide a cover for sensible conversations with adversaries, even though informal. Pakistan cannot miss the fact that India is a bigger neighbor and despite the long list of grievances and disputes, a way will have to be found to engage with the Indians.
Bilaterally, trade and restoring High Commissioners to each other sounds meaningful. China-India relations provide a good example of the state of play, where despite a territorial dispute, both have a trade volume that exceeds $100 billion. The time may have come for the Pakistan Foreign Office to revisit its India file.
- Salman Bashir is a Pakistani diplomat who served as Foreign Secretary of Pakistan and as High Commissioner of Pakistan to India.