India has rejected Pakistan’s request for a bilateral meeting between their Foreign Minister Bilawal Zardari Bhutto and External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar on the sidelines of the upcoming Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Foreign Ministers’ meeting in Goa. According to sources, both sides were planning to schedule a “brief talk” between Jaishankar and Bhutto to “break the ice” before the SCO Head of States Summit in July. However, after the recent attack on an Army truck in the Poonch district of Jammu in which five soldiers were killed, New Delhi has decided to turn down all requests, blaming Pakistan for the incident, allegedly carried out by Jaish-e-Mohammed affiliate People’s Anti-Fascist Front (PAFF).
While India and Pakistan have been having dialogue to the extent of having an understanding on maintaining a ceasefire along the Line of Control (LoC), New Delhi has not been having formal talks with Islamabad since the 2016 Uri attack, also purportedly carried out by JeM. Sources suggest that back-channel talks have also stalled in early 2021, but both sides continue to communicate through their respective High Commissioners on urgent issues.
The abrogation of Article 370, which scrapped the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, led to Pakistan downgrading diplomatic ties and recalling envoys from each other’s countries. External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar took a dig at Pakistan after the Poonch attacks, saying that “It is very difficult for us to engage with a neighbor who practices cross-border terrorism against us.”
Pakistan has already canceled the visit of their Defence Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif to India for the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Defence Ministers’ Meeting. Pressure has also been building up on Foreign Minister Bhutto to participate in the upcoming SCO Foreign Ministers Meeting through video-conferencing, according to a source in the Pakistani government. The SCO FMM will take place in Goa on May 5.
This will be the first visit by a Pakistani Foreign Minister to India since 2011 when Hina Rabbani Khar came to India as the then Foreign Minister. Post that, in 2016, Pakistan’s former Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhury traveled to India on a hurricane trip. “We are committed to the SCO charter, and this visit should not be seen as a bilateral one but in the context of the SCO,” Bhutto reportedly said as pressure began to rise to cancel the trip.
The SCO has Russia, India, China, Pakistan, and four Central Asian countries – Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan as its members. Iran is the newest member of the China-led grouping, and under the Indian Presidency, Tehran will attend all meetings as a full-fledged member.