ISLAMABAD - Pakistan and India have not shown any interest in any formal bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation’s foreign and defense ministers’ moot starting today (Monday) in Beijing, officials said.

Senior officials at the foreign ministry told The Nation that Pakistan expected India to seek such meetings as they were the ones who suspended the dialogue process.

One official said: “We are certainly not opposed to any meetings on the sidelines but since India suspended the dialogue process, we expect them to restart it. They (India) have not shown any interest, so we too are silent (on the bilateral meeting).”

He said: “There could be a chit chat and shake of hands when the ministers sit together but no formal meetings are scheduled either for the foreign minister (Khawaja Mohammed Asif) or the defence minister (Khurram Dastgir Khan) with the Indian counterparts.”

A statement issued by the foreign ministry said that Asif will represent Pakistan at the meeting of Council of Foreign Ministers of the SCO from April 23-24.

“The Council of Foreign Ministers will discuss issues related to peace and security at the international and regional level and promotion of cooperation between member states. The meeting will finalize the preparations for the forthcoming SCO Heads of State Council in Qingdao,” it said.

“The foreign minister will meet his counterparts at the CFM including Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi,” said the statement. However, no meeting was planned with Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj.

Defence Minister Dastgir will also be in Beijing to attend the SCO defence ministers’ meeting the same day. Although Khan will hold meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping, his Chinese counterpart Wei Fenghe and other visiting defence ministers on the sidelines, no meeting was scheduled with Indian Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman.

The SCO is an important forum for global and regional peace and security and promoting mutually beneficial cooperation between member states. Pakistan joined the organization in June 2017.

The foreign ministry statement said: “We have been playing an active, responsible and constructive role in it in line with the Shanghai spirit which calls for mutual trust and benefit, equality, respect for cultural diversity and the pursuit of common development. The SCO is making remarkable strides in promoting understanding, coordination and cooperation in a wide array of fields. We will continue to play our role in meeting the objectives of SCO.”

The ministers’ gathering has gained importance as they are the first such meetings after Pakistan and India were admitted into the eight-member group last year.

Pak-India ties turned frosty after the Pathankot attack in January 2016 and another strike by the Kashmiri freedom fighters on an army camp in held Kashmir’s Uri area in September that year.

The SCO, in which China and Russia play an influential role, specializes in regional security, counter-terrorism and related issues. The organisation consists of China, Russia, India, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.

Pakistan is expected to be represented by President Mamnoon Hussain at the SCO’s Heads of State Council summit in Qingdao while India Prime Minister Narendra Modi will represent India. Pakistan Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi had recently attended the Boao Forum for Asia in China.

Last year, Pakistan and India formally joined the SCO, spearheaded by China and Russia, despite bilateral tensions bubbling over Kashmir. Leaders of the largely symbolic body - including Russia’s Vladimir Putin and China’s Xi Jinping - formally signed off on the two countries’ accession at the annual SCO summit in Kazakhstan’s capital Astana.

Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and Indian counterpart Narendra Modi shook hands and exchanged pleasantries but did not hold a formal bilateral meeting.

Both Moscow and Beijing have expressed optimism that the two nuclear-armed neighbours’ entry into the SCO could strengthen the prospect for peace across the region.

The nuclear-armed neighbours have fought three wars since gaining independence from the British in 1947. The two also regularly trade allegations of harassment and espionage against diplomats.

Reports said that cross-border clashes between Pakistan and India had reached the highest level in 15 years. Hundreds of people have been killed or wounded in the clashes instigated by India.

The Line of Control and the Working Boundary had remained relatively peaceful after the 2003 ceasefire agreement but India violated the deal numerous times in the recent months, prompting a response from Pakistan. Islamabad claims 1,970 violations by India in 2017 against 168 two years earlier and 415 until the beginning of March 2018. 

Lately, Pakistan has become active to de-escalate tension with India as Islamabad plans to host a group of Indian doctors to treat Indian prisoners detained here. India had proposed that a group of 20 doctors be allowed a visit to Pakistan to examine women, children, elderly and mentally-unsound prisoners. The two countries have already agreed for the release of these prisoners. Last week, India accused Pakistan of inciting the Sikh community to intensify the ‘Khalistan’ campaign. The foreign ministry categorically rejected the Indian allegations.

DASTGIR OFF TO CHINA

FOR SCO MOOT

Defence Minister Khurram Dastgir Khan will leave for Beijing today (Monday) to attend a meeting of defence ministers of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation member-states in Beijing starting from Tuesday.

The minister will hold a bilateral meeting with his Chinese counterpart Wei Fenghe and discuss ways and means to further enhance defence cooperation between the two countries.

The defence ministers of SCO countries are scheduled to meet in Beijing from April to April 25.

Pakistan along with India attained the full membership status of the SCO at the Astana summit in 2017. China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan are the other SCO members.

During the summit, the SCO member countries would exchange views on current international and regional security issues as well as other issues of common interest.