By: Chandrashekar Bhat
India has invited Pakistan defence minister Khawaja Asif to attend the meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) to be held in New Delhi in April, according to a media report.
India currently holds the presidency of the SCO, which comprises China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
Diplomatic sources told The Express Tribune newspaper that the Indian government shared the formal invitation with the Pakistan Foreign Office on Tuesday (14).
There was no immediate confirmation from New Delhi on the Pakistani media report.
India earlier invited Chief Justice of Pakistan Umar Ata Bandial and shared an invitation for the meeting of foreign ministers of SCO, the report said.
The chief justice, however, skipped the meeting of the SCO chief justices and instead Justice Muneeb Akhtar attended it through a video link recently, it said.
The foreign ministers’ meeting is scheduled for May in Goa while the defence ministers’ huddle will be held in New Delhi in April.
Pakistan’s government has said that it has not yet taken a decision on whether foreign minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari or defence minister Asif will attend the meetings in India.
If the Pakistani foreign minister attends the meeting in person, it will be the first such visit from Islamabad to India since 2011. Then Pakistani foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar visited India that year.
In May 2014, then-Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif visited India to attend prime minister Narendra Modi’s swearing-in ceremony.
In December 2015, then external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj visited Pakistan and days later, Modi made a brief visit to the neighbouring country.
The ties between India and Pakistan came under severe strain after India’s warplanes pounded a Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorist training camp in Pakistan’s Balakot in February 2019 in response to the Pulwama terror attack.
The relations further deteriorated after India announced the withdrawal of Jammu and Kashmir’s special powers and the bifurcation of the erstwhile state into Union territories in August 2019.