New Delhi: Foreign minister Sushma Swaraj will attend the foreign ministers’ meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) to be held in Bishkek later this week, the Indian foreign ministry announced on Monday.
The meeting is expected to bring Swaraj face to face with her Pakistani counterpart Shah Mehmood Qureshi but whether it will lead to any kind of engagement between the two countries is as yet unclear. Speculation has been rife though that the SCO meet could provide an opportunity for India and Pakistan to explore the possibility of engagement.
Swaraj will be in Bishkek on Tuesday and Wednesday for the Council of Foreign Ministers (CFM) of the ten member SCO, a regional grouping dominated by China and Russia with the Central Asian Republics as members. India and Pakistan joined the SCO as members in 2017.
“This will be the second CFM meeting that India will be attending as a full member of SCO. External Affairs Minister had also attended the last CFM meeting in Beijing (China) in April 2018. India actively took part in various SCO dialogue mechanisms under the Chairmanship of the Kyrgyz Republic over the past year. The next SCO Summit will be held in Bishkek in June 2019," the foreign ministry statement said.
Swaraj’s program in Bishkek “will include the meeting of Council of SCO Foreign Ministers and a joint call of SCO Foreign Ministers on Kyrgyz President Sooranbay Jeenbekov," the statement said. “The CFM meeting in Bishkek will review the preparations for the forthcoming SCO Summit in Bishkek in 13-14 June 2019 and also exchange views on topical issues of international and regional importance."
Ties between India and Pakistan have been strained since the 14 February Pulwama suicide attack in Kashmir in which 40 Indian paramilitary personnel were killed. The attack sparked tensions between the two countries. In retaliation, India launched a “preemptive" strike on a terrorist training camp in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province on 26 February. Pakistan launched an air raid on Indian military installations in Kashmir on 27 February which India foiled.
According to people familiar with the developments, the SCO meet could lay the groundwork for a meeting between Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan and Prime Minister Narendra Modi who seems set to return to power after the seven-phased Lok Sabha elections in India ended on 19 May.
According to exit polls available on Sunday, Modi is set to return to power with a comfortable majority for his Bharatiya Janata Party as well as his National Democratic Alliance coalition — something that could prompt New Delhi and Islamabad to begin looking at reengagement.