India invites Bilawal for May SCO meeting: report

ISLAMABAD: India has invited the foreign minister of Pakistan to a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) that it is hosting in May, Indian media reported on Wednesday, signalling a possible thaw in relations between the nuclear-armed rivals.

The invitation came days after Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif called for talks with India over all outstanding issues, including the disputed Kashmir region.

Just a month ago, there were street protests in India over comments Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari made about Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the sidelines of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) meeting. India called Zardari’s comments “uncivilised”.

Foreign Office spokespersons for the two countries did not immediately respond to requests from Reuters for comment on the media reports that Zardari had been invited to the SCO foreign ministers meeting being hosted in Goa.

The SCO comprises China, India, Russia, Pakistan and four Central Asian states.

According to the Indian Express newspaper, the invitation from S Jaishankar, foreign minister of India, was delivered by the nation’s High Commission in Islamabad.

If Pakistan accepts, Zardari would be its first foreign minister to visit India after a gap of nearly 12 years.

Pakistan and India have fought three wars since independence from British rule in 1947. The divided Himalayan region of Kashmir was the root cause of two of those wars.

India accuses Pakistan of stoking the decades-long insurgency in the mostly Muslim part of Kashmir under its occupation. Pakistan denies India’s accusation.

Tensions flared again in late 2019, when India unilaterally revoked the autonomous status of Kashmir. Sharif said New Delhi’s actions resulted in “flagrant” human rights violations there.

Official talks between the two countries have been suspended since then, though there have been some attempts to resume negotiations through backdoor diplomacy. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) brokered the last attempt in 2021, and Sharif has again sought its support to facilitate a revival of talks with India.

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