ISLAMABAD - A handshake and some pleasantries between Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi is all the two nations can expect on the sidelines of the two-day Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) meeting in Astana, Kazakhstan starting today (June 8).

Both the nuclear-armed neighbours will be inducted as full members of the SCO in the summit.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will participate in the meeting of the Heads of State Council (HoSC) of the SCO on June 8 and 9.

The HoSC is the highest decision-making body of the SCO, which meets annually.

The last summit was held in Tashkent, Uzbekistan in June 2016.

Pakistan has been an observer with the SCO since 2005.

Pakistan applied for full membership of the organisation in 2010.

The decision, in principle, to give membership to Pakistan was taken by the SCO Heads of States meeting held in Ufa, Russia, in 2015. 

The SCO meeting would also explore the possibility of Iran joining the group.

While the full membership was already decided, the peace lovers from Pakistan and India expected a meeting between Sharif and Modi on the sidelines.

The efforts in this regard were not good enough to announce a formal meeting.

This week, Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj ruled out a formal meeting between Modi and Sharif in Astana.

Pakistani officials said since India had shown no intent, Pakistan did not press for a meeting.

A senior official at the foreign office told The Nation that Pakistan believed India should initiate contacts for bilateral talks as they were the ones who suspended the dialogue process.

“We have always been ready for talks. India is discouraging the dialogue process so it should show some change by making contacts for meetings. We can take it from there. We never ruled out the PMs’ meeting in Astana too. They absolutely ignored this option,” he said.

The official said that the two PMs might still go for a handshake and share pleasantries as a formality.

“Bilateral meeting is not on the agenda. But you never know if the prime ministers unexpectedly sit together,” he added.

Pakistan and India are presently engaged in a legal fight over the convicted spy Kulbhushan Jadhav’s case at the International Court of Justice.

Pakistan is also considering to somehow drag India to the ICJ on the Kashmir issue.

India claims Pakistan cannot take the Kashmir dispute to the ICJ as it would violate the Shimla agreement and the Lahore declaration.

A Pakistani military court had sentenced the Indian spy to death in April.

Jadhav, a Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) agent, was found guilty of terrorism and espionage.

New Delhi however, claimed he was kidnapped from Iran last year.

For several weeks, the possible Sharif-Modi meeting on the sidelines of the SCO summit was discussed on both sides of the border.

There was never a confirmation but Pakistan did not rule it out all through.

The SCO, seen as a counterweight to the US-led North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato), is a political and security organisation that facilitates counter-terrorism cooperation.

Its present full members are China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.

PM Sharif and PM Modi are likely to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the SCO summit.

Sharif is expected to raise Pak-India tension with Jinping.

China also has its own issues with India.

Pakistan and India’s bid to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) is the other main topic.

New Delhi also criticises China’s infrastructure projects in Pakistan and Sri Lanka fearing China may use them against India for military purposes.

Foreign Office spokesperson Nafees Zakaria said that the SCO Summit would provide Pakistan with a forum to effectively implement the agenda of regional connectivity being pursued by the government.

“The summit is an opportunity for regional countries to further their bilateral and multilateral cooperation,” he said.

Zakaria said that Pakistan looked forward to strengthening its bilateral and multilateral ties with all member countries of the SCO.

A foreign ministry statement said that Pakistan fully subscribed to the Charter of the SCO and the “Shanghai Spirit.”

“As an observer, we have been actively participating in the activities of the organization. Pakistan shares with the SCO and its member states, deep-rooted historical and cultural links, as well as strong economic and strategic complementarities. Our interests converge across a wide range of areas. SCO will help us underscore our interest in regional peace, stability and development and our support for regional cooperation against terrorism and extremism,” said the statement.

“On the sidelines of the SCO Summit, the prime minister will hold a number of bilateral meetings with other participating leaders. Besides the SCO Summit, Kazakhstan is also hosting the International Expo 2017, in which more than 100 countries including Pakistan are participating. The prime minister along with other participating SCO heads of states will also attend the inaugural ceremony of the expo,” it said.

Former ambassador Mushtaq Ahmed Mehar said Pakistan had very good ties with China and should take maximum advantage. “We should not become part of any conspiracy and focus on our economic development. China’s support is an asset,” he maintained.

Mehar said that the SCO’s main aim was to control drug trafficking and terrorism.

“SCO will also improve regional connectivity,” he added.