India has seen reason and issued an invitation to Pakistan for the Defence Ministers’ meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization scheduled for Goa next month, but not after making unwilling noises first. It has yet to issue invitations for the SCO foreign ministers’ meeting in May, and the summit in June, which India hosts. Pakistan has not decided about the invitation, with Defence Minister Kh Asif says the government will decide. India might find that this action will make organisers of multilateral meetings think twice before choosing India as a host, especially if Pakistan is also to be present. India has already shut down SAARC by such bully-boy behaviour, and now seems intent on extending this to multilateral forums. This is unprecedented, and even at the height of the Cold War, the USA never barred the USSR from attending the UN, no matter how bad their relations.
If India is unwilling to invite, it seems equally unwilling to be invited. It has made the Asia Cricket Cup the latest victim of this. After its initial refusal to take part in the event, which Pakistan hosts this year, was met by Pakistan counter-boycotting the World Cup in India, it has now come up with the condition that its matches be played in neutral venues. That not only poses a logistical nightmare for the pool matches, where each of the other teams will be forced to hare off outside Pakistan for just one match, but makes the scheduled final impossible, as India should get into it, as it has done 10 of the last 15.
India should realise that Pakistan cannot be browbeaten in this way. The BJP government may see the need to play to the gallery in this way, to build a narrative for a third successive electoral victory, based on Muslim-bashing and aggression against Pakistan. Pakistan has not been entirely free of all blame, but India should realize that Pakistan has always said it wants to settle outstanding issues. However, this should not be interpreted as weakness. Pakistan has no overwhelming compulsion to kowtow to India, and it certainly should not encourage such bad behaviour. While Pakistan should keep in mind its needs in the SCO when answering the half-hearted invitation to attend, it must also take a firm line in the ACC. It must not commit the Indian error, and a boorish one too, of repeating its mistake of taking a bilateral issue to multilateral forums.