Pakistan’s Bilawal Bhutto Zardari arrives for SCO Foreign Ministers’ meet in Goa

Pakistan Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari arrived for the meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) – Council of Foreign Ministers in Goa on Friday (May 5), where he was greeted by External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar.

This is the first visit by a Pakistan Foreign Minister in over six years to India. The last such visit was in December 2016, when Pakistan’s then Foreign Minister, Sartaj Aziz, travelled to Amritsar to attend the Heart of Asia conference. But as his then Indian counterpart, Sushma Swaraj, was unwell, there was no bilateral meeting.

Speaking at the meeting, Jaishankar said, “As SCO chair, we’ve initiated an unprecedented engagement with SCO observers and dialogue partners by inviting them to participate in more than 14 social-cultural events.”

“I am pleased to note that the discussion on issues of reform and modernisation of SCO has already commenced… I also seek the support of member states for the long-standing demand of India to make English as the 3rd official language of SCO, to enable a deeper engagement with English-speaking member states,” he added.

Jaishankar also talked about cross-border terrorism during his address. “The menace of terrorism continues unabated. We firmly believe that there can be no justification for terrorism and it must be stopped in all its forms and manifestations including cross-border terrorism. Combating terrorism is one of the original mandates of SCO,” he said.

Indian officials have signalled that they would not be interested in a meeting between Jaishankar and Bhutto Zardari, as ties between their two countries have been strained for the last seven years. The Pakistan minister had also said that he was looking forward to “constructive discussions” with his counterparts from “friendly countries”.

“I am very happy to reach Goa to lead the Pakistani delegation at the SCO Foreign Ministers’ meeting. I expect the SCO CFM meeting to be successful,” said Bhutto Zardari, who was received at the Goa airport on Thursday (May 4) by J P Singh, the Joint Secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) who looks after Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran.

Both Jaishankar and Bhutto Zardari have held several meetings on the sidelines of the event.

Before leaving for Goa, Bhutto Zardari had said: “My decision to attend this meeting illustrates Pakistan’s strong commitment to the charter of the SCO…during my visit, which is focused exclusively on the SCO, I look forward to constructive discussions with my counterparts from friendly countries.”