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Days after Sharif signal, India invites Pak’s Foreign Minister

DAYS AFTER Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said his country has learned its lesson from three wars and wants to live in peace with India, New Delhi has contacted Islamabad with an invitation to attend the meeting of Foreign Ministers of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in Goa, The Indian Express has learned.

The invitation of Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar has been sent through the Indian High Commission in Islamabad to his Pakistani counterpart Bilawal Bhutto Zardari to visit Goa in the first week of May for the meeting, it is understood.

The dates currently being viewed are May 4 and 5. If Pakistan accepts the invitation, it will be the first such visit in nearly 12 years. The last Pakistani foreign minister to visit India was Hina Rabbani Khar in July 2011.

In addition to India and Pakistan, the SCO includes China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Similar invitations have been sent to the foreign ministers of China and Russia, along with the Central Asian countries. But India’s invitation to Pakistan’s foreign minister is particularly important given the low point in bilateral relations.

Speaking to The Indian Express, a top official said: “In line with its Neighborhood First Policy, India wishes normal neighborly relations with Pakistan. India’s firm position is that any issues between India and Pakistan should be resolved bilaterally and peacefully, in an atmosphere free from terror and violence. It is up to Pakistan to create such a favorable environment. It has been made clear that India will not compromise on issues related to national security and will take strong and decisive steps to address all attempts to undermine India’s security and territorial integrity.”

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Incidentally, the Chinese and Russian foreign ministers have also been invited to a G-20 meeting on March 1 and 2, paving the way for China’s new foreign minister, Qin Gang, to visit India twice in the coming months. visits.

Ties between India and Pakistan have gained momentum in the past eight years. In August 2015, India had invited Pakistani Foreign Minister Sartaj Aziz. But the visit was called off after the then foreign minister, the late Sushma Swaraj, asked Aziz to refrain from meeting the Hurriyat in India.


Outreach signal pre-G20

The last foreign minister to visit Pakistan was Swaraj in December 2015 for the Heart of Asia conference in Islamabad. Subsequently, bilateral ties deteriorated with the terrorist attacks in Pathankot (January 2016), Uri (September 2016) and Pulwama (February 2019). And they bottomed out with the repeal of Article 370 in J&K, which led to the deterioration of diplomatic ties, suspension of trade and regulation review, and a halt to all cross-border bus and rail services.

With former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan taking a hard line and India unwilling to compromise on terrorism coming from Pakistan, ties remained on the back burner.

The opportunity for change has now arisen with the new government in Islamabad under the Sharifs and Bhuttos. In addition, in recent years the ceasefire along the LoC has been in place, religious pilgrimages have continued and the Indus Waters Treaty has been observed.

This situation was also punctuated by turbulence. In December last year, Jaishankar criticized Pakistan as the “epicenter of terrorism” and Bhutto criticized Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the riots in Gujarat in 2002. The State Department called Bhutto’s remarks “uncivilized” and a “new low even for Pakistan “.

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But earlier this month, in comments seen as an overture by Delhi, Sharif called for “serious and heartfelt talks” with Modi on “burning issues like Kashmir”. At the same time, Pakistan’s benefactor and closest ally, China, lifted its blockade of India’s bid to list the deputy chief of Pakistan’s Lashkar-e-Taiba terror network, Abdul Rehman Makki, as a “global terrorist”.

These two developments were viewed positively in Delhi as a signal for renewed engagement, sources told The Indian Express. Officially, the Indian establishment has maintained that there are no bilateral agreements, although the two countries have interacted on multilateral platforms – cricket matches in multilateral tournaments have been cited as an example.

In an interview with Al-Arabiya channel last week, Sharif said: “We have fought three wars with India and they have only brought more misery, poverty and unemployment to the people. We have learned our lesson and we want to live in peace with India, provided we can solve our real problems.”

Although Sharif also raised the issue of Kashmir and the situation of minorities in India in the interview, Delhi had read the political messages between the lines. And with India’s turn to host the SCO summit, the latest invitation is seen as an opportunity.



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