As Pakistan foreign minister Bilawal Bhutto touched down in Goa on Thursday afternoon to attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) meeting he broke a record. He became the first Pakistani foreign minister to visit India in more than a decade; the question is whether he will make history.
"On my way to Goa, India. Will be leading the Pakistan delegation at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation CFM. My decision to attend this meeting illustrates Pakistan’s strong commitment to the charter of SCO," he tweeted. "During my visit, which is focused exclusively on the SCO, I look forward to constructive discussions with my counterparts from friendly countries,” he added.
Bilateral meetings are scheduled on the sidelines of the meeting. But whether India and Pakistan will have an engagement remains to be seen. India has made the position on talks clear—end of cross-border terrorism. On a visit to the Dominican Republic, Minister of External Affairs S. Jaishankar brought the issue up, stating that India pursues diplomatic policy to engage all significant centres of power and multi-alignment to reflect the reality of multi-polarity except in two cases. "The exception to this of course is Pakistan in view of the cross-border terrorism that it supports," he said.
The relations between the neighbours have been at an all-time low. Whether the SCO provides the format to break the ice—as it does offer a space for regional connectivity—is debatable. Despite the excitement of the possibility of a slight thaw, the focus of the meeting will remain on Ukraine and the fallout. Unlike G20 which was stalled by the diverging views on the conflict, with the SCO, apart from a neutral India, the sides are clear. With the recent allegations by Russia claiming that Kyiv had mounted a drone attack on the Kremlin Senate building targeting Vladimir Putin on Tuesday night, the escalation and its impact will be discussed. The Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov was one of the first to arrive.
The other bilateral being watched for will the one with China. The suspense has been ended by the Chinese announcing that there will be a meeting. China announced on Tuesday its foreign minister Qin Gang will meet Jaishankar. The relations between India and China, too, is frosty.
China falls into a somewhat different category because of the boundary dispute and the currently abnormal nature of our ties," Jaishankar said on his visit to the Dominican Republic. While the meeting is on the cards, it is unlikely that a breakthrough is expected. Qin Gang is expected to travel to Islamabad after the visit for a trilateral on Afghanistan, a fact that India is not likely to appreciate.