Bilawal Bhutto to visit India for SCO FMs meeting in May

Islamabad, April 20 (IANS)
In a crucial decision that may be the first step towards normalisation of ties between the two nuclear-powered neighbours, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari has decided to attend a Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) meeting in India next month.
This was announced at the briefing of Foreign Office is Islamabad on Thursday, where the spokesperson of the Minister of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) Mumtaz Zahra Baloch formally announced that Bilawal will be travelling to Goa from May 4-5th to participate in the SCO Foreign Ministers’ meeting.
She said Bilawal will be attending the meeting at the invitation of India’s External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar.
“Our participation in the meeting reflects Pakistan’s commitment to the SCO Charter and processes and the importance that Pakistan accords to the region in its foreign policy priorities,” Baloch said.
“Pakistan continues to participate in SCO meetings in keeping with our longstanding commitment to SCO.”
Thursday’s development comes at a time when diplomatic ties between the two nations were halted after the Balakot airstrikes in 2019.
The visit also holds massive importance as Bilawal will be the first Foreign Minister to visit India after a gap of nearly 12 years.
The last Foreign Minister to visit India was Hina Rabbani Khar in July 2011.
In January, India had extended an invitation to Pakistan’s Foreign Minister along with all other member states of the SCO to attend the meeting.
Since the invite by India, Pakistan’s Foreign Office has been deliberating on the matter to decide on how it should respond to the invitation.
Diplomatic sources maintained that it was discussed that Bilawal should not refuse the invitation but participate in the meeting through a video link, instead of travelling to India.
However, with the decision to travel to Goa for the meeting, many see it as a hope for positive forward movement towards engagement and normalisation of strained ties between the two crucial members of the SCO and major role players of the region at large.
Moreover, with Pakistan’s positive nod on the invitation to attend the meeting in Goa, a subsequent SCO meeting on security is also in the pipeline, an invitation of which has also been extended towards Pakistan by India.
But at the moment, it remains uncertain if Pakistan’s Defense Minister Khawaja Asif will be making a trip to India or will be representing Pakistan virtually.
“Bilawal Bhutto’s visit to India would be seen as an ice-breaking move. It will be symbolically significant. Though it may not bring any dramatic changes in bilateral relationship,” stated Kamran Yousaf, a senior political analyst.

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