Pak’s ‘in principle’ decision to attend SCO meets in India, undecided on mode
Pakistan’s participation in the SCO national security advisers meeting on March 29 is most likely to be virtual. Last week, the government told the Lok Sabha that the foreign ministers of China and Pakistan are yet to confirm their participation in the meeting scheduled for May 4-5
NEW DELHI: Pakistan has decided in principle to participate in three key upcoming meetings of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) to be hosted by India though the level and mode of participation is yet to be finalised, people familiar with the matter said.
India is set to hold the meetings of SCO national security advisers (NSA) and top national security officials in New Delhi on March 29, the defence ministers in the national capital during April 27-29 and the foreign ministers in Goa during May 4-5, the people said. These meetings will culminate in the SCO Summit to be held in July, the first time India will host the event since joining the grouping in 2017.
The people cited above, familiar with the thinking in Islamabad, said the Pakistani side is keen to ensure its full participation in important deliberations of the SCO despite the strains in bilateral ties between India and Pakistan.
“While there is an in-principle decision on attending all these upcoming meetings, the mode of participation – whether it will be in-person or virtual – is yet to be decided,” one the people said.
“A decision is also yet to be made whether foreign minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari or minister of state for foreign affairs Hina Rabbani Khar will join the meeting of foreign ministers,” the person added.
In the case of the meeting of the SCO NSAs, Pakistan is expected to be represented by a senior official from the defence ministry or the National Security Council as the post of NSA is currently vacant. While Imran Khan was Pakistan’s prime minister, Moeed Yusuf held the post between May 2021 and April 2022. He stepped down after Khan lost a parliamentary vote of confidence and the Shehbaz Sharif government hasn’t appointed a new NSA.
Pakistan’s participation in the SCO NSAs’ meeting is also most likely to be virtual, the people said. This meeting is expected to focus on the situation in Afghanistan, countering terrorism, extremism and trans-national crimes, and the misuse of emerging technologies such as drones and crypto-currency by terrorists.
India has already invited all SCO member states - China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan – for the upcoming meetings. Minister of state for external affairs Meenakshi Lekhi, while responding to a question in Lok Sabha last week, said the foreign ministers of China and Pakistan are yet to confirm their participation in the meeting scheduled for May 4-5.
The issue of Pakistan’s participation in SCO meetings came under a cloud recently after the Indian objected to the use of maps incorrectly depicting the country’s borders, especially for Kashmir, at several gatherings. These maps were used in formal presentations by Pakistani officials.
Pakistan was not able to participate in a conference of military medicine specialists under the SCO framework in New Delhi on March 21 because of differences on this issue, the people said.
Ajay Bisaria, India’s former envoy to Pakistan and Canada, said Pakistan’s participation in all SCO meetings should be welcomed though the focus should be on multilateral issues. “Pakistan should come for these multilateral meetings and follow the mantra of talking about multilateral issues while leaving bilateral issues at the doorstep,” he said.
“This process will help build trust for the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc), where we could engage multilaterally,” Bisaria said.