Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, the Pakistani Foreign Minister, visited India to attend a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. He is the first Pakistani Foreign Minister to visit India in almost 12 years. When he arrived in Goa, there was no indication of a bilateral meeting with his Indian counterpart S Jaishankar. The visit comes amid continuing strain in ties between the two countries on a host of issues including Islamabad’s use of cross-border terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir.
Bhutto-Zardari attended a reception hosted by Jaishankar for the visiting foreign ministers. While a few people who are part of Bhutto-Zardari’s entourage claimed Jaishankar shook hands with his Pakistani counterpart like he did with others, there was no confirmation of it by the Indian side. Earlier, the Pakistan foreign minister was received at the airport in Goa by JP Singh, the joint secretary heading the Pakistan-Afghanistan-Iran division at the external affairs ministry.
Though there was a buzz in the media about Bhutto-Zardari’s two-day visit to Goa, both the Indian and the Pakistani side appeared to keep each other at arm’s length. People familiar with official engagements on the sidelines of the SCO conclave said there is no plan for a bilateral meeting between External Affairs Minister Jaishankar and Bhutto-Zardari so far as there was no request for it from the Pakistani side.
In the evening, Bhutto-Zardari attended a gala reception hosted for the SCO foreign ministers by External Affairs Minister Jaishankar. Before leaving for Goa, the Pakistani foreign minister said, “My decision to attend this meeting illustrates Pakistan’s strong commitment to the charter of the SCO.” “During my visit, which is focused exclusively on the SCO, I look forward to constructive discussions with my counterparts from friendly countries,” he said.
The invitation to the Pakistan foreign minister to attend the SCO meeting was sent in January, days after Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif offered to hold bilateral talks between India and Pakistan. However, Pakistan’s Prime Minister’s Office later said negotiations are not possible without India revoking its 2019 actions on Kashmir.
India has been maintaining that it desires normal neighbourly relations with Pakistan while insisting that the onus is on Islamabad to create an environment free of terror and hostility for such an engagement. The ties between India and Pakistan came under severe strain after India’s warplanes pounded a Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorist training camp in Balakot in Pakistan in February 2019 in response to the Pulwama terror attack.