SCO Influence on India-Pakistan Relations

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The fact that India holds the Chairmanship-in-Office of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) has the potential to make the year 2023 very productive for New Delhi. In many ways, India’s relations with Pakistan are also affected by this atmosphere. As a matter of fact, the SCO Foreign Ministers’ Meeting[1] held in Goa on 4-5 May 2023 sets an example in this regard.

Pakistan Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari also traveled to Goa to attend the SCO Foreign Ministers meeting. In addition to its regional and global effects, the SCO meeting is also remarkable in terms of Zardari’s visit to Goa. With this visit, Zardari became the first senior Pakistani official to visit India after nearly a decade. Before Zardari, the last Pakistani official to visit India was Deputy Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar in 2011. [2]

Zardari’s personal participation in the meeting also brought the relations between the two countries and the New Delhi-Islamabad rivalry in the SCO equation back to the agenda. In addition to being a platform where the rivalry between New Delhi and Islamabad continues, the SCO also provides opportunities for the development of relations between the two countries from time to time. Zardari’s visit is also important in this respect.

In this context, it can be said that the meeting is a positive development for the start of a process in which the parties approach each other moderately. In 2019, it may be possible to restart the broken commercial relations and perhaps take steps to improve bilateral relations. In this regard, the expectations of the parties from each other come to the fore. Because Zardari stated that India should take the necessary steps to create a favourable environment for negotiations between the parties. [3]

In 2019, New Delhi canceled the special status granted to Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution. This move by New Delhi destroyed the positive ties with Islamabad and drew Islamabad’s reaction. Today, it is seen that this is the biggest obstacle to the softening of relations between the two countries. As a matter of fact, Zardari confirmed this with his statement, “Until India revises its 2019 steps, meaningful bilateral interaction will be difficult.” [4]

On the other hand, mutual criticisms were also on the agenda. At the meeting, Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar emphasized the fight against terrorism, while Zardari stated that unilateral and illegal measures of states that violate international law and United Nations Security Council resolutions are contrary to SCO objectives. [5]  With these statements, he once again expressed his reaction to New Delhi’s move to abolish the autonomous status of Jammu and Kashmir. Therefore, the parties gave messages through their mutual dissatisfaction.

The peaceful resolution of tensions between the parties and the emergence of a moderate relationship dynamic will contribute to the increase of harmony and common policies within the SCO. Both sides attach great importance to the organization. However, the fact that the elements of bilateral rivalry are seen at a level that cannot be compromised in terms of stepping back shows that it is not possible to take concrete steps in this regard. However, it can be said that the SCO partnership keeps the parties diplomatically within a certain framework and bilateral relations are progressing in this context.

Another message of Zardari’s visit to Goa is about the Pakistan-SCO ties. Zardari’s personal participation in the meeting is of great importance in terms of showing how much importance Pakistan attaches to the SCO. Zardari also expressed this. Pakistan Foreign Ministry also drew attention to this issue with its statement: [6]

“Our participation in the meeting reflects Pakistan’s commitment to the SCO Charter and processes and the importance Pakistan attaches to the region in its foreign policy priorities.”

Since this situation is related to the issue of transferring ties or disputes with India to the SCO, it is a message to both India and other member states. Considering that Zardari, who personally attended the summit, demonstrated Pakistan’s commitment to the SCO, there is a possibility that Pakistan will take important steps in terms of participation in the leaders’ summit.

In addition, Zardari’s participation may also be intended to show that Pakistan will not completely cede the SCO space to India. In this respect, it can be argued that Islamabad is acting within the scope of its goal of improving its relations with Central Asian countries.

Finally, it is seen that Pakistan needs stability in its foreign policy due to domestic problems. As it is known, Pakistan is going through a difficult period due to economic, political, and security-based issues. Therefore, the SCO meeting creates a favorable ground for a moderate atmosphere in terms of ties with India. Therefore, the issue of participation in the meeting is related to Pakistan’s efforts to achieve a more stable atmosphere in the international arena rather than its efforts to establish a full reconciliation or dialogue with India. From this point of view, it is also seen that Zardari’s visit is a regional necessity. [7]

In conclusion, Pakistan Foreign Minister Zardari’s visit to India within the framework of the SCO contains different messages in many respects. The visit itself is an important event in itself. In addition, it can be said that the Islamabad administration has adopted an attitude in favour of Zardari’s participation in the meeting due to different objectives and requirements. From this point of view, it is also possible to make similar predictions for the SCO Summit to be held in July 2023.

[1] “Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Meet in Goa: As Russia, China Vie for Upper hand, What SCO Means for India”, The Indian Express,, (Date of Accession: 06.05.2023).

[2] “Will Pakistan Foreign Minister’s Rare India Visit Ease Tensions?”, Al Jazeera,, (Date of Accession: 06.05.2023).

[3] “Onus on India to Create Environment for Bilateral Talks: Bilawal”, The News,, (Date of Accession: 06.05.2023).

[4] Ibid.

[5] “India, Pakistan Take Veiled Swipe at Eachother at SCO Conclave”, Times of India,, (Date of Accession: 06.05.2023).

[6] “Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari to Make Most Senior-level Trip to India in 7 Years”, CNN,, (Date of Accession: 06.05.2023).

[7] “Why Pakistan’s Foreign Minister is Visiting India”, Foreign Policy,, (Date of Accession: 06.05.2023).

Şeyma KIZILAY, 2016 yılında Erciyes Üniversitesi İktisadi ve İdari Bilimler Fakültesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü’nden mezun olmuştur. Yüksek lisans derecesini, 2019 yılında Kırşehir Ahi Evran Üniversitesi Sosyal Bilimler Enstitüsü Uluslararası İlişkiler Anabilim Dalı’nda sunduğu ‘’Uluslararası İlişkilerde Ulus İnşası Bağlamında Irak Örneği” başlıklı teziyle almıştır. Doktora eğitimine Uludağ Üniversitesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Anabilim Dalı’nda devam eden Kızılay, tez aşamasındadır. Başlıca çalışma alanları; güvenlik, terörizm, Afganistan ve Pakistan’dır. Kızılay, iyi derecede İngilizce ve orta seviyede Arapça bilmektedir.