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India invites Pakistan defence minister for SCO meet

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NEW DELHI: India has invited Pakistan Defence Minister Khawaja Asif for a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) next month along with his counterparts from other member nations of the grouping, people familiar with the development said on Wednesday.

The invite to Asif for the April 28 meeting was sent by India in its capacity as current chair of the eight-nation SCO, weeks after a similar communication was sent to Islamabad inviting Pakistan Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari for a foreign ministerial conclave of the grouping that is scheduled to be held in May.

“The invites to ministers and officials concerned of the SCO member nations for respective meetings are being sent as part of laid down norms,” one of the people cited above said.

They said Pakistan defence minister Asif was sent an invitation through the Indian high commission in Islamabad for the defence ministerial meeting.

India is also set to send separate invites to Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin for the annual SCO summit later this year.

The SCO member countries are India, Russia, China, the Kyrgyz Republic, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Pakistan.

While the SCO defence ministers’ meeting is scheduled to be held in Delhi, the foreign ministerial conclave is set to take place in Goa in early May. India has already invited Chinese foreign minister Qin Gang for the meeting.

The defence ministers’ meeting is set to delve into various issues relating to regional security including the threat of terrorism and the situation in Afghanistan.

The meeting will be chaired by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, they said.

There was no indication yet from Pakistan on whether Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and Asif will attend the respective meetings.

If Asif decides to attend the defence ministerial meeting in-person, it will be the first such visit from Islamabad to India since 2011. The then Pakistan foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar had visited India that year.

Khar is currently serving as the minister of state for foreign affairs.

There has been speculation that Pakistan may send Khar for the SCO foreign ministerial meeting.

In May 2014, the then Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif visited India to attend Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s swearing-in ceremony.

In December 2015, the then external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj visited Pakistan, and days later Modi made a brief visit to that country.

The ties between India and Pakistan came under severe strain after India’s warplanes pounded a Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorist training camp in Balakot in Pakistan in February 2019 in response to the Pulwama terror attack.

The relations further deteriorated after India in August 2019 scrapped the special status of Jammu and Kashmir and bifurcated the state into two union territories.

In its annual report for 2022 released on Monday, the Ministry of External Affairs said there is no let-up in Pakistan-sponsored cross-border terrorism and Islamabad is yet to show sincerity in delivering justice to the families of the victims of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks. (PTI)

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