India’s external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj. (PTI)
India’s external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj. (PTI)

Sushma Swaraj may run into Mehmood Qureshi at SCO foreign ministers’ summit

  • Foreign minister Sushma Swaraj to attend 10-member meet in Bishkek on 21-22 May, may meet Pakistani counterpart
  • SCO meet is likely to provide opportunity for India and Pakistan to explore possibility of talks

NEW DELHI : India’s external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj may come face to face with her Pakistani counterpart, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, at the Council of Foreign Ministers (CFM) meeting organized by Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, on 21-22 May.

The Indian foreign ministry on Monday said Swaraj will attend the 10-member SCO meet. The SCO is a grouping of Central Asian Republics led by China and Russia. India and Pakistan had joined the SCO as members in 2017.

Swaraj’s programme at 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 on 13-14 June, 2019, and also exchange views on topical issues of international and regional importance," it added.

Though there was no word on the possibility of a Swaraj-Qureshi meeting at Bishkek, speculations are rife that the SCO meet could provide an opportunity for the two to explore the possibility of engagement, more so with exit polls predicting a decisive win for the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance.

The June summit may, however, see Narendra Modi, if re-elected as PM, engaging with Imran Khan, on the sidelines of the event, for the first time since Khan was elected Pakistan’s prime minister in July last year.

Talks between India and Pakistan were called off in 2013. Subsequently, Modi had made several attempts to resume bilateral talks after coming to office in 2014, but his efforts came to a nought with Pakistan insisting on involving Kashmiri separatists in before meeting Indian officials. A series of terrorist attacks on Indian military installations in 2016 also put paid to efforts to resume dialogue.

(Paras Jain/Mint)

The high-decibel campaign leading to the general elections was also high on nationalism and “pre-emptive" air strikes on terrorist camps across the border following the 14 February Pulwama suicide attack in Kashmir in which 40 Indian paramilitary personnel were killed.

Despite tensions at the international border, in a meeting with foreign journalists last month, Khan had said that there may be a better chance of peace talks with India if Modi was back in power. “Perhaps if the BJP—a right-wing party—wins, some kind of settlement in Kashmir could be reached," news reports quoted Khan as saying.

Earlier this month, in an interview to Bloomberg news agency, BJP general secretary Ram Madhav had said that the SCO summit could provide the opportunity for an India-Pakistan prime ministerial meet. “At the SCO, Prime Minister Imran Khan and Prime Minister Modi will be face-to-face. It’s an opportunity for Pakistan. If something credible comes out in the next one month or so, before the SCO happens, I am sure the relationship will have some improvement. But the onus is on them now," Madhav was cited as saying by Bloomberg.

Analysts say that recent steps such as detaining terrorists and freezing their funds were “low-cost steps" taken by Pakistan in the wake of international pressure after the Pulwama attack. Earlier this month, the United Nations designated Masood Azhar as a terrorist. “India would once again be giving Pakistan a diplomatic lifeline if we engage Pakistan," said former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal, more so as the crucial meeting of the Financial Action Task Force, which looks at terrorist financing, is due to take place next month in the US.