Pakistan and India are bitter neighbors who do not get along very well. Since 1947 they have fought three wars over a disputed region called Kashmir; in the same vein, they accuse each other of supporting terrorism and violating human rights. Moreover, Pakistan and India have sophisticated nukes, making their rivalry even more dangerous.
Unlike Kashmir, the issue of terrorism has had a profound impact on their bilateral relationship. India has since long accused Pakistan of supporting terrorist groups that operate on its soil and carry out attacks on its territory. Similarly, Pakistan has accused India of fueling terrorism on its territory. The most prominent example was the 2008 Mumbai attacks, in which unknown gunmen carried out a series of coordinated attacks in Mumbai, killing more or less 166 people. Surprisingly, the Indian government blamed Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) for supporting the attack, while Pakistan denied it.
The two countries also disagree on sharing the waters of the Indus River, which flows through both countries. Moreover, the political and diplomatic tension has further complicated the relationship, with incidents such as the 2019 Pulwama attack, air skirmishes and the subsequent military escalation exacerbating existing tension. Despite efforts to improve ties and resolve issues through different channels, bilateral relations remain strained.
Nevertheless, Pakistan and India sometimes have to sit together and negotiate, like the recent Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit. However, before the summit, it appeared to be an eminent development after a decade of strained relations between the two countries. The SCO previously paved the way for India and Pakistan to facilitate dialogue. Despite the periodic attempt to advance dialogue and peace talks between India and Pakistan, their relationship remained fraught with suspicion and loathing.
This year the SCO meeting was held in Goa, India. Unfortunately, the summit was not a friendly affair for India and Pakistan; the two foreign ministers, Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari of Pakistan and Subrahmanyam Jaishankar of India, took veiled swipes at each other in separate conferences.
However, it is imperative to note that the SCO is a stage that is foundationally against the “Three Evils,” namely, extremism, separatism, and terrorism; the member states can use this forum to set together and discuss the issue and create a common ground to these evils. Nonetheless, the forum does not allow member states to blame or accuse each other directly for supporting these evils. Despite this, the Indian foreign minister Jaishankar deliberately beleaguered Bilawal and accused Pakistan of harboring terrorist organizations inside the country. He further describes Pakistan’s position on Kashmir as effectually backing radicalism: “Victims of terrorism do not sit together with perpetrators of terrorism to discuss terrorism, he said” He even blames Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, a “promoter” and spokesperson for terrorism, and it was a ruthless dismissal at the end of the most prestigious visit between two countries in over a decade.
He also said, “Pakistan is depleting faster even its Forex reserve,” which he refers to Islamabad’s economic situation.
In a forum like the SCO, delegates must respect each other’s views and engage in constructive dialogue. Therefore, it is not appropriate for the SCO members to accuse each other directly in the SCO summit, as it would violate the spirit of cooperation and mutual understanding that the SCO stands for. Instead, the SCO members should seek to resolve their differences through peaceful means and constructive dialogue and avoid actions that could undermine the stability and development of the region. Meanwhile, listening is essential for an effective dialogue, and the parties involved must pay attention to each other’s perspectives and try to reach a common understanding of the situation and the challenges they face. Instead of resorting to aggressive or discordant strategies that can damage the relationship and hinder the resolution of the problem, parties should cooperate and work together to find a reciprocally useful solution.
Such summits should not result in any negative outcomes, as they would not only undermine the rules and regulations of the forum but also influence the behavior and attitude of the delegates and the people of the participating countries.
Case in point, the one outcome Pakistanis have learned from the recent SCO summit is that India is a terror-sponsoring country with horrific activities in its mind and no sign of respect for foreign leaders, and they are hard to negotiate with; in the same vein, Imran Khan, the former Prime Minister of Pakistan also expressed his displeasure over the way Indian Foreign Minister treated Pakistani Foreign Minister at the SCO summit, Khan accused Jaishankar of being a bad host and lacking etiquette and culture. Meanwhile, Indians, on the other hand, appreciated Jaishankar’s words as an act of revenge. It is evident that India has used the issue of terrorism for political gain, often at the expense of bilateral relations. This has led to counterterrorism efforts becoming entangled with broader political and strategic interests, making it more difficult to develop a comprehensive approach to the issues.
In the interim, working together to address terrorism and promote regional stability, the SCO members must trust each other and should not confront each other. The two ministers did not meet bilaterally, and there was no sign of reconciliation in their last-longer strained relations.
However, if there are no outcomes with a sign of trust in each other among the member states, then what was the point of attending the summit? Or it means that India and Pakistan have their reason to be part of the bloc? It is worth noting that India is also a sole member of QUAD, and one of the main objectives of the QUAD is to counterbalance China’s growing influence in the Indo-Pacific region. Meanwhile, India also sees China as a strategic rival and a security threat, especially after the border clashes in 2020. Nevertheless, India’s participation in the Quad has been seen as a way to counterbalance China, while its participation in the SCO has been perceived as a strategy to isolate Pakistan and portray it as a state sponsor of terrorism in the international arena. Nevertheless, it conveys that India’s participation in both organizations reflects a dual-game self-centered strategy.
I do not intend to accuse India of engaging in international organizations but to reveal the inconsistency of its foreign policy. India should not advance its interests at the cost of others. Meanwhile, blaming Pakistan for terrorism or calling Pakistan a terrorist country is not a solution to their ever-lasting rivalry, but such attitudes can only cite hate among the citizens, further escalating bilateral rivalry. Pakistan has long extended its hand for negotiation, and the recently proposed Kartarpur Peace Corridor was another way to improve relations between countries. However, India’s choice to scuffle the special status of the undecided region of Kashmir in 2019 undermined the atmosphere for holding talks between India and Pakistan.
Lastly, to bring peace and stability to the region, both countries should foster trust and cooperation and refrain from accusing each other in international forums. South Asia has immense potential for development and cooperation, but the entrenched conflict between India and Pakistan hampers every step toward progress.