After sending an invitation to Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, India has also invited Defence Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif to attend a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) being held in New Delhi in April.
Official sources said the Indian government shared the formal invitation with the Foreign Office last Tuesday, as it currently holds the presidency of the SCO comprising Russia, China, India, Pakistan, Iran and Central Asian States. India is set to host a series of events being the SCO president. India had earlier invited Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial, who skipped the meeting of the SCO chief justices “due to his personal engagements”, and instead Justice Muneeb Akhtar attended the meeting through a video link recently.
The foreign ministers’ meeting of the SCO is scheduled for May in Goa, while the defence ministers’ meeting would be held in New Delhi in April. The government has not yet taken a decision on whether FM Bilawal Bhutto Zardari or Defence Minister Khawaja Asif would attend the meetings in India.
However, diplomatic sources said Pakistani ministers and officials might attend the meeting through video-link, as they could not ignore it outright being a very important forum. The FO said a decision would be taken at an appropriate time. New Delhi would also host the SCO summit later this year and Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif was most likely to be invited. However, it is yet not clear what would be Islamabad’s response to the invitation to the prime minister. Sources say due to the presence of China and Russia in the forum, Pakistan is unlikely to stay out of the events.
India and Pakistan were accepted as full members of the organisation a few years back after they committed not to undermine the SCO work because of their bilateral disputes. Relations between Pakistan and India have remained tense for many years now, especially after abrogation of Article 370 and revoking the special status of the Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir in August 2019.