India has extended an invitation to Pakistan to participate in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) foreign ministers' meeting in Goa, according to a report by The Indian Express. This marks a significant move in the relationship between the two countries, which have seen a nosedive in ties over the past eight years.
The invitation from India's External Affairs Minister, S Jaishankar, was reportedly sent through the Indian High Commission in Islamabad for Pakistan's Foreign Minister, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, to visit Goa in the first week of May for the meeting. If Pakistan accepts the invite, it will be the first such visit in nearly 12 years.
The SCO is a regional intergovernmental organization that comprises of India, Pakistan, China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Similar invitations have been sent to the foreign ministers of China and Russia along with the Central Asian countries. However, India's invitation to the Pakistan Foreign Minister is particularly significant, given the all-time low in bilateral relations between the two countries.
Ties between India and Pakistan have been strained over the past eight years. In August 2015, India had extended an invitation to Pakistan's Foreign Minister, Sartaj Aziz, but the visit was called off after the then External Affairs Minister, Sushma Swaraj, asked Aziz to desist from meeting the Hurriyat in India.
The last External Affairs Minister to visit Pakistan was Swaraj in December 2015 for the Heart of Asia conference in Islamabad. Subsequently, bilateral ties deteriorated with terrorist attacks in Pathankot, Uri and Pulwama, and hit a nadir with the abrogation of Article 370 in J&K, which led to downgrading of diplomatic ties, suspension of trade and review of arrangements, and a halt on all cross-border bus and train services.
However, with the new government in Islamabad under the Sharifs and Bhuttos, there is a possibility for change. Over the past couple of years, the ceasefire along the LoC has held, religious pilgrimages have proceeded and the Indus Waters Treaty has been observed. The situation has been punctuated by turbulence, too.
In December last year, Jaishankar slammed Pakistan for being the “epicentre of terrorism” and Bhutto criticised Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the 2002 Gujarat riots. But earlier this month, in remarks that were seen as an overture by Delhi, Sharif called for “serious and sincere talks” with Modi on “burning issues like Kashmir”.
Simultaneously, Pakistan’s benefactor and close ally, China, lifted the block on India’s bid to list Pakistan-based terror outfit Lashkar-e-Taiba’s deputy chief Abdul Rehman Makki as a “global terrorist”.
In an interview last week, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said that Pakistan has learnt its lesson after three wars with India and now the country wants to live in peace with its neighbour.
“We have had three wars with India, and they have only brought more misery, poverty, and unemployment to the people. We have learnt our lesson, and we want to live in peace with India, provided we are able to resolve our genuine problems,” he told Al-Arabiya channel.
The latest invitation from India is being seen as a potential window of opportunity for both countries to work towards resolving their issues and fostering peace. With India set to host the SCO summit, it is an opportunity for India and Pakistan to come together and engage in dialogue to resolve their disputes and pave the way for a more cordial relationship between the two nations.