Monday March 27, 2023

SCO summit: Pakistan not seeking bilateral Shehbaz-Modi meeting

September 12, 2022
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif (L) and Indian PM Narendra Moodi.  — APP/ File
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif (L) and Indian PM Narendra Moodi.  — APP/ File

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan will not seek a bilateral meeting between Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi when the two along with the 13 regional leaders would be under one-roof later this week in the historic city Samarkand, Uzbekistan, to attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) 22nd summit.

The position Pakistan has taken is due to the Indian government’s brutal and inhuman attitude towards the people of occupied Kashmir and Muslims in that country. “Islamabad could consider positively if New Delhi requests for a structured meeting,” highly-placed sources in the Prime Minister’s House told The News here on Sunday evening. The chance meeting of any two leaders in the corridors of the summit couldn’t be ruled out, the sources hinted. The Foreign Office will brief about the final schedule of the meetings later this week.

The maiden meeting between Prime Minister Shehbaz and Chinese President Xi Jinping, will be notable as it will be part of the Chinese leader’s first foray abroad since the coronavirus pandemic. Shehbaz-Xi sideline meeting in the ancient Uzbek Silk Road city of Samarkand will have a conspicuous significance since the two countries have several subjects on their agenda to discuss, including the acceleration of China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and much-needed Chinese fiscal assistance for the economy.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev will be among the leaders who will have bilateral meetings with Shehbaz on the sidelines of the SCO. Russian President Vladimir Putin, despite domestic complexities, would turn up for the summit and has scheduled a meeting with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, but there is uncertainty regarding his meetings with Shehbaz and Modi.

The Indian government statement on Sunday did not say whether Modi would hold bilateral talks with Shehbaz Sharif, Xi or Putin. Sourcing most of its arms from Russia, India like China has refused to condemn Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine and has ramped up purchases of Russian oil. India’s relations with China have been frosty since the skirmishes in 2020 on the Indian occupied areas on Himalayan border. President Xi and Modi have not held bilateral talks since 2019. India is also part of the so-called Quad, together with the United States, Japan and Australia, which is largely considered an anti-China grouping.

The gathering of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation comprising China, Russia, four Central Asian countries Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan besides India and Pakistan is due to take place in Samarkand on September 15 and 16. According to sources, Foreign Secretary Sohail Mahmood will be a part of prime minister’s entourage for SCO and also later for the United Nations’ General Assembly’s 77th Summit. With this the appointment of new foreign secretary has been delayed since Sohail will be attaining superannuation on 29th of this month.

The diplomatic sources reminded that the SCO summit will provide Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin their first face-to-face meeting since the invasion of Ukraine and declaration of a “forever partnership” year. The Covid-19 interruptions and the Ukraine invasion have understandably magnified attention on a grouping that is regularly ignored by those outside Central Asia. But the downplaying of SCO in the past reflected not just a tendency of Western scholars and analysts to gloss over Asia’s continental heartland but also to see the organisation as something of an empty multilateral vessel. More recently, it has been energised by the growing alignment of Russian and Chinese interests as well as the increased significance of Central Asia.

The summit will mark Iran’s accession to the group, a move that underscores its distinctive geopolitical outlook. More broadly, Mongolia, Afghanistan and Belarus have observer status, while Sri Lanka, Turkey, Cambodia, Azerbaijan, Nepal and Armenia are dialogue partners, to be joined by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Egypt in the huddle, the sources said. This leaves the SCO now among the world’s largest regional organisations with its members accounting for around one-third of global GDP, about 40 per cent of the world’s population and nearly two-thirds of the Eurasian landmass.