Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be flying to Bishkek in Kyrgyztan on June 13 for his first multilateral engagement after the elections—the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) heads meet. He has two confirmed bilateral meetings on the sidelines of the summit, one with Chinese President Xi Jinping and the other with Russian President Vladimir Putin. In addition to the summit, Modi will attend the India-Kyrgyztan bilateral meet.
Pakistan Prime minister Imran Khan will also be attending the summit. Both India and Pakistan were formally inducted into the SCO in 2017. The Indian membership came thanks to the efforts of Russia and Pakistan's was facilitated by China.
Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has sought to underplay any engagement with Pakistan during the course of the summit. A. Gitesh Sarma, secretary (west), remained evasive when asked whether India had sought permission to fly over Pakistani air space to Bishkek. Such a request had facilitated Sushma Swaraj's trip when she was the external affairs minister. Sources say that Modi, too, might fly over Pakistani air space.
Sarma remained ambiguous about any other bilaterals the PM might attend, saying that there had been other requests, but were not yet confirmed, since the schedule was tight. He also refused to comment on queries about whether Pakistan had requested a bilateral meeting.
The SCO is a platform for India to engage with Central Asia multilaterally. In recent years, India has made overtures to Central Asian countries individually, too, and sought to strengthen ties with them. the SCO represents 43 per cent of the world's population, 22 per cent of the world's area and 20 per cent of its GDP. Sarma said the structure of the SCO was in line with India's vision on extremism, terrorism, separatism, Afghanistan and multi-lateral cooperation. He mentioned that the extent of India's commitment to be involved in the SCO was evident from the fact that the MEA had begun a special division to deal with SCO developments.
The SCO works on consensus, and contentious issues are usually kept out of the discussion. Among the many events planned under SCO is an observer and defence meet in Russia in September. Indian troops are likely to participate in this exercise, as India will take part in all SCO activities. So, Indian troops will meet Pakistani ones. A similar exercise was held last year, too, and Indian and Pakistani troops exercised together for the first time. Relations, however, are on a different keel now, with an almost war-like situation having developed post India's Balakot strikes and the attacks from Pakistan's Air Force.
The two countries, however, appear to be wanting a resumption of some amount of cordiality, soon. Swaraj had met her counterpart Mehmood Qureshi at the SCO external affairs ministers' meet in May. MEA, however, went out of its way to deny that there was any meeting or talks between them. The officials insisted that the two ministers were just sitting together, waiting for the meeting to start.