The Pakistan Foreign Office has announced that Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari will be going to new Delhi to attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organization meeting of Foreign Ministers on May 4 and 5, which will represent the first visit by a senior Pakistani leader to India since Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif attended counterpart Narendra Modi’s inauguration, back in 2014. The decade has been marked byt major developments in the region, ranging from India’s increasing closeness to the USA as the Sino-US rivalry heats up to India’s unilateral abrogation of Occupied Kashmir’s special status, not to mention its sbre-rattling over the Phulwama incident in 2019.
While it would be unrealistic to expect Mr Bhutto Zardari to come out of the moot with any major diplomatic coup, this provides him with a useful opportunity of getting the measure not just of Indian Foreign Minister S. Jaishanker and the rest of theIndian leadership, but also of conveying Pakistan’s stand on these and other pressing issues. Most notable among the substantive issues will be that of Kashmir, but trade will also play an important role in any talks. All of the stakeholders o both sides of the border have made the right noises, but the time has long been overdue to walk the talk. Mr Bhutto Zardari must also be aware that India’s ruling BJP has used sabrerattling for electoral purposes; he must stop it from trying to pull off any such stunt in the run-up to the Indian elections due next year.
He might also wish to take up the rather childish Indian refusal to engage with Pakistan, which has meant that meetings for years have taken place only on the sidelines of summits: as the present one will. Indeed, perhaps the most useful forum, SAARC, has been quite deliberately targeted by the BJP government. The bilateral relationship cannot be treated as a mere addendum to multilateral diplomacy..The issues between India and Pakistan, but whether they are basically bilateral, like Sir Creek, or multilateral, like the stand to take on climate change, they are only to be tackled by dialogue, as wel as mutual respect for one another’s sovereignty. Mr Bhutto Zardari has shown himself an able diplomat in previous forays abroad, but this will prove his biggest challenge, and not because of the SCO, but its sidelines.