Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, has departed for Goa, India to attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Council of Foreign Ministers meeting. Bilawal is the first foreign minister from Pakistan to head to India in over a decade. The meeting, which will be held today and tomorrow, aims to deliberate upon significant regional and international issues and sign some of the institutional documents. The Council of Foreign Ministers will also finalise the agenda and decisions to be adopted by the 17th SCO Council of Heads of State Meeting scheduled to take place in New Delhi on July 3-4, 2023.
Ahead of his departure, Bilawal expressed his enthusiasm for “engaging bilaterally” with SCO member countries. Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif affirmed Pakistan’s commitment to the SCO’s charter and multilateralism, stating that Pakistan’s decision to attend the SCO meet reflects the country’s strong commitment to the organisation’s values of peace and stability in the region.
The visit comes at a time when relations between India and Pakistan have deteriorated over various factors. Pakistan has clarified that Bilawal will not hold any bilateral meetings with his Indian counterpart. The foreign minister emphasized that the visit should be seen in the context of the SCO, which is an eight-member political and security bloc that also includes Russia and China.
Bilawal’s trip is expected to include meetings with his counterparts from friendly countries on the sidelines of the meeting. India has invited foreign ministers from China and Russia, along with other Central Asian countries. Iran, the newest member of the organization, will attend the SCO meeting as a full member for the first time.
There are mixed reactions to Bilawal’s visit within the Pakistani political scene. While his predecessor, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, believes that the SCO is an important forum that Pakistan should make use of, PTI’s Fawad Chaudhry condemned Bilawal’s visit, citing disregard for atrocities committed by the Modi government in India. PTI’s Shireen Mazari referred to Bilawal as an “imported” foreign minister, claiming that he is desperate to show his loyalty to the Bajwa plan of appeasing the United States on Israel and India. However, Bilawal dismissed these speculations, stating that his visit should not be interpreted as a sign of improved bilateral ties between India and Pakistan.