The Pakistani foreign minister will visit India at the highest official level in seven years
The Pakistani foreign minister will visit India at the highest official level in seven years

Islamabad: The most senior-level visit from Pakistan to India in seven years will be made by Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari next month to attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation meeting, his ministry's official spokesperson announced on Thursday.

The development is unexpected given that Pakistan chose to sever diplomatic ties with India after the government in New Delhi decided to incorporate the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir into the rest of the Indian union in August 2019.

Pakistan also reviewed its trade relations with its eastern neighbour and expressed worry that Indian officials were breaking the law by attempting to alter the demographics of Kashmir, which is governed by them and has a Muslim majority.

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Since Sartaj Aziz, the then-prime minister's adviser on foreign affairs, visited India in 2016 to attend the Heart of Asia conference in Amritsar, there hasn't been a senior foreign office representative from Pakistan visit India.

Pakistan's foreign office acknowledged India's invitation to send its foreign minister to the SCO meeting earlier this year, but stated that it was not in a hurry to send an acceptance.

According to Mumtaz Zahra Baloch, a spokesperson for the foreign office, "Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari will be leading the Pakistan delegation to the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Council of Foreign Ministers being held on May 4-5, 2023 in Goa, India."

The current SCO CFM Chair, Dr. S. Jaishankar, the Republic of India's minister for external affairs, invited the Foreign Minister to attend the meeting.

She continued by saying that Pakistan's attendance at the gathering demonstrated the nation's dedication to the SCO charter and procedures as well as the significance the region holds in the nation's foreign policy priorities.

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"Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari had also attended the most recent meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers held in July last year in Tashkent," she added.

Although the upcoming visit of Pakistan's foreign minister to the neighbouring nation may be a step towards normalisation, relations between the two countries remain tense.

Recently, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif also offered India talks, leading Indian officials to declare that they desired normal relations with Pakistan in a "conducive atmosphere."

The opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party of former prime minister Imran Khan questioned the timing and intent of FM Bhutto-Zardari's visit to India, claiming that it "amounts to surrendering our position" on Indian-administrated Kashmir.

"This government has demonstrated their willingness to give up anything to appease Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The struggle of the Kashmiri people will be undermined by the foreign minister, he continued.

Former parliamentary secretary for foreign affairs Andleeb Abbas claimed that Prime Minister Sharif's administration's foreign policy is "directionless," as it should have called attention to Indian atrocities in Indian-administrated Kashmir.

Additionally, she stated that rather than attempting to normalise relations with India, Sharif should have brought up the problem of Muslims being killed there. Before making a formal announcement of his trip, the foreign minister should have given Pakistan's citizens some assurances about the reason for and timing of his visit to India. 

Dr. Huma Baqai, an expert in international affairs, described the development as "positive" and urged political parties to avoid getting involved in politics because it is a matter of national concern.

The Kashmir conflict has held us captive for many years, and both Pakistan and India continue to suffer the consequences. Dr. Huma Baqai, a specialist in world affairs,

For the benefit of their respective peoples, both nations should move forward with normalising their relations, she said, adding that the SCO meeting was a worldwide event and that Pakistan's foreign minister should attend.

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The trip to India by our foreign minister could open the door for negotiations between us to begin in order to resolve our differences amicably, she continued.

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