By Tirthankar Mitra
Conversational niceties are adhered to and appropriate body language follows when representatives of nations meet even though adversarial relations exist between them. But the recently concluded Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) meet at Goa last week was an exception where foreign minister of India S Jaishankar and his Pakistani counterpart Bilawal Bhutto Zardari did not mask their feelings.
There were no handshakes let alone hugs. Neither Jaishankar played the part of a gracious host not did Bhutto essayed the at home guest act.
If Bhutto was the first Pakistani foreign minister to visit India after 2011, his country chose to downplay it. It portrayed Bilawal’s Goa visit as Pakistan’s commitment to the SCO charter and made it clear that there would be no bilateral.
But there were wheels within wheels as Pakistani foreign minister made the trip to Goa on Chinese insistence. For Beijing seeks to portray SCO as a foil to G7 and G20.
The decision makers behind the Bamboo Curtain were well aware that sparks will fly between Jaishankar and Bhutto. Not at all loath to it, Chinese policy makers felt that it would camouflage the discussions between Chinese and Indian foreign ministers which would not be fruitful.
If Pakistani establishment considers Bilawal’s interaction with his counterparts as a measure of success, it was short termed vis-a-vis India’s takeaways. India is no longer present in Afghanistan and Tehreek-e-Taliban is backed by Afghan Taliban, it boils down to the fact that India can no longer be accused by Pakistan of directly fomenting terrorism on its soil.
On the other hand, India had proof of Pakistan’s direct instigation to terrorism. Apparently this is a minor point, India’s absence on Afghan soil can be turned into a significant table turner for it in subsequent international meets.
The Goa meet was under the shadow of domestic politics of both the countries. Sections of the BJP would not have been happy had Jaishankar shaken hands with Bhutto and an act of courtesy would have become an issue in Karnataka election .Bilawal Bhutto played to the gallery in the backdrop of political instability in his country.
In what appeared to be a neck to neck race, Jaishankar surged ahead of Bilawal successfully conveying Indian point of view home and abroad. Bilawal had barred Indian media in his final Press meet while Jaishankar’s was an open door interaction
No Indo-Pak talk can be held excluding Kashmir and Goa was no exception. If the Pakistani foreign minister held that Kashmir was the focal point of dispute, his counterpart contended that the dialogue can be started after Pakistan “vacates it’s illegal occupation of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir.”
On his return to Karachi, Bhutto announced his trip to be a success. But he came in for criticism from Tehrek-e-Insaaf, Imran Khan’s party. Some felt in Pakistan that its foreign minister was insulted and ignored in India. Others were of the view that Bilawal had made his point firmly.
Whether the meet paves the way for Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharief’s visit remains to be seen. It won’t take place soon as it is unlikely in the backdrop of renewed and heightened terrorist activities in Jammu and Kashmir with five Indian soldiers being killed in Rajouri.
SCO Goa summit was a war of words between two neighbours. But there was no last man standing as both the duelists walked away with their national interests unhurt.
Asked what had been the dividend reaped in Indo-Pak relations? An optimist’s reply would be some ice has certainly been broken. (IPA Service)