Shanghai Hope

THE upcoming Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) conference in Tashkent in the last week of July has generated some hope of a meeting between the foreign ministers of India and Pakistan. Both External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and his Pakistani counterpart, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari will attend the conference. The conference will be followed by the SCO Heads of State Council meeting due to be held in Samarkand on September 15-16 this year, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi along with Russian President Putin, Chinese President Xi, Pakistani Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif and heads of Central Asian States are among the invitees. If the foreign ministers are able to meet, this could potentially pave the way for a meeting between the prime ministers of the two neighbours.

The Shanghai summit is held every year at the level of prime ministers and deals mainly with the trade and economic agenda of the SCO. The event, however, allows a chance for the heads of state to meet. Also, as happens in the multilateral meetings attended by India and Pakistan,  they indirectly take potshots at each other. India always brings up terrorism sponsored from across the border, and Pakistan makes counter-accusations and also seeks to highlight the situation in Kashmir. This acrimonious exchange is a routine spectacle at the United Nations, where the mutually antagonistic positions are ritualistically rehearsed at various meetings.

The SCO meetings have witnessed the reiteration of this spectacle. If anything, it also underlines the lingering estrangement between the neighbours that has further deepened since New Delhi’s withdrawal of Article 370 in August 2019. The situation can be expected to improve if the leaders of the two countries deem it in their core interest to engage.

And if not, then we can only hope that the current climate of distrust and antagonism doesn’t lead to further escalation of tensions. More so, when due to long suspended talks, the two countries lack the diplomatic tools to manage the fallout. It is therefore important that the neighbours get back to the dialogue and work towards the resolution of their longstanding issues for durable peace in the region.

The only hope for a redeeming difference lies in a summit meeting between the prime ministers of the two countries. They owe it to the peoples of their respective countries to resume a long-stalled dialogue to forge a way forward and renew hope for reconciliation and lasting peace in South Asia.

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