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Pakistan has begun in-house consultations to decide whether to attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) meetings of the defence and foreign ministers in India, a report said on Monday.

New Delhi has already extended invitations to Defence Minister Khawaja Asif and Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari. The defence ministers’ meeting is scheduled in April in New Delhi while foreign ministers would meet in May in Goa, according to the Express Tribune.

India, the current president of the eight-nation SCO, is holding a series of events.

Barring one event where Pakistan was denied entry over a map controversy, Islamabad has attended all other events, including the chief justices’ conference and meeting of energy ministers via video link.

However, a three-member Pakistan military delegation headed by a Brigadier attended the meeting of an expert working group under the Council of Defence Ministers in person in New Delhi on Thursday.

The presence of the Pakistani delegation in New Delhi has raised the possibility of defence and foreign ministers travelling to India.

While the Foreign Office (FO) spokesperson insisted that the final decision would be taken closer to the events, sources said that in-house consultations are already underway.

The authorities are currently divided over attending the high-profile meetings hosted by India. One view is that given the current state of the bilateral relationship, Pakistan, if required, would only send junior officials to the SCO meetings.

However, other officials do not agree with this. They believe that Pakistan must not leave such key regional forums unattended, and since SCO comprises powerful countries, including Russia and China, Pakistan must use this opportunity to advance its interests.

The ties between India and Pakistan came under severe strain after the Indian Air Force fighter jets 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.

The Express Tribune quoted sources as saying that a lot will depend on China, Pakistan’s closest ally.

If China, being the founding member of SCO that played a key role in making Pakistan its full-time member, asks Islamabad to attend the meetings it would be difficult for the government to ignore the advice, the report said.

Pakistan and India were accepted as full members of the SCO after both sides committed not to undermine regional focus by bringing up their bilateral issues.

Sources told the newspaper that foreign minister Bilawal was keen to go to India for the SCO meeting.

If Pakistan attends the defence and foreign ministers’ meetings, it is possible that Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif may also go to India in July for the SCO summit.

Sources said the final decision about Pakistani participation in SCO ministerial meetings and a summit would be taken after due diligence. It would also depend on the political situation in Pakistan, they added.

The relationship between Pakistan and India remains at a standstill despite efforts in recent times to normalise ties.

If Pakistan sends a high-powered delegation to India for SCO, it may break the ice though it may not bring any dramatic change in the bilateral ties, according to the paper.

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