NEW DELHI :
Leaders of India and Pakistan are expected to come face-to-face at a meeting of the heads of government of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) to be hosted by India later this year. That India will host the summit was announced on Monday by Vladimir Norov, secretary general of the organisation led by China and Russia.
The event will bring together leaders from eight SCO member-states—India, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Pakistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. India and Pakistan joined the SCO as full members in 2017.
Analysts held back from commenting on whether Pakistan would accept an invitation from India and send a representative, as also on whether the SCO meet could set the stage for a thaw between the two countries.
Russia is to host a meeting of the heads of state of SCO countries in July, but “this year for the first time India is chairing one of the main SCO bodies, the council of heads of government and prime ministers of the organization’s member states,” Norov said. “The member states have highly appreciated India’s willingness to host the meeting of prime ministers in autumn 2020,” he added.
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan should be attending the meet, according to protocol, as it is a meeting of the heads of government, said government officials.
A person familiar with the developments on the Indian side confirmed that India would need to send an invite to Khan. However, given that tensions have been running high between the two countries for almost a year, the possibility of a high-level visit from Pakistan is far from certain.
On 1 January, Prime Minister Narendra Modi telephoned leaders of Bhutan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and the Maldives to greet them on the New Year but pointedly left out Pakistan.
Ties between the two countries took a nosedive when a terrorist belonging to the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) drove an explosive laden vehicle into a security convoy killing 40 personnel of the Central Reserve Police Force in February 2019.
A few days later India bombed a JeM training camp in Pakistan’s Balakot region. A day later Pakistan launched an aerial raid against Indian military targets in Kashmir, which was repulsed by the Indian Air Force.
The situation worsened when India revoked a section in its Constitution that bestowed special status on Kashmir in August and integrated the region more closely with the rest of the country. Pakistan slammed the Indian move, which took Kashmir off the dialogue table with Pakistan.
Despite the tensions, India and Pakistan did take part in an SCO military exercise hosted by Russia in September. Pakistan, however, did not send any representative to a military medicine conference of SCO member-states hosted by India in the same month.
“The meet that India is to host is much later in the year. Right now it is too speculative to talk about what will happen later this year,” said T.C.A Raghavan, former Indian high commissioner to Pakistan, who now heads the government-funded New Delhi-based think tank, Indian Council for World Affairs.