With eyes on Afghanistan, Russia and Pakistan to bolster security ties

PM Imran reaffirms resolve to commence work on gas pipeline project as early as possible / COAS Bajwa says Pakistan welcomes all initiatives for peace and stability in Afghanistan

ISLAMABAD: Concluding his visit with a pledge to focus on efforts to bring peace to Afghanistan, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Wednesday said that Moscow and Islamabad will boost ties in the fight against terrorism, with his country providing defense equipment to Pakistan and the two holding joint military exercises.

In Pakistan on the final day of a two-day visit, Lavrov’s visit is the first by a Russian foreign minister in nine years, part of a warming in once frosty relations.

The visit comes as Moscow seeks to increase its stature in the region, particularly in war-torn Afghanistan, where it has sought to inject itself as a key player in accelerated efforts to find a peaceful end to decades of war.

Pakistan has been a key player in setting up direct negotiations, first between the United States and the Taliban — which has been fighting Afghan forces since it was toppled in a US-led invasion in 2001 — and again in facilitating the now-stalled intra-Afghan dialogue process in Qatar capital of Doha.

Expressing concern over the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan, Lavrov said Pakistan and Russia have agreed to further facilitate the stakeholders to reach an amicable solution through an inclusive political dialogue to bring an end to the decades-long war.

“We stand ready to strengthen the anti-terrorist potential of Pakistan, including by supplying Pakistan with special military equipment,” he said, without going into detail about the equipment.

As Washington reviews an agreement it signed more than a year ago with the Taliban and rethinks a May 1 withdrawal of its soldiers, Moscow has stepped up its involvement in Afghanistan, emerging as a significant player.

Last month it hosted talks between the Taliban and senior government officials and Lavrov suggested another high-level meeting could again be held in Moscow.

Lavrov arrived in Pakistan on Tuesday from India, with whom Moscow has had a long relationship. The apparent reset in Pakistan-Russia relations, however, is, by contrast, a recent phenomenon.

Addressing a joint press conference with Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Lavrov expressed satisfaction over a 46 per cent increase in trade between the two countries. He, however, stressed there is a need to further diversify it, Radio Pakistan reported.

Discussing the opportunities in the energy sector, he said that both the countries are now discussing a new protocol on the Stream Gas Pipeline Project — an ambitious project to transport 1.6 billion cubic feet per day of regasified liquefied natural gas (LNG) from Karachi to Lahore — and as soon as it is signed, the construction work will begin.

The top Russian diplomat termed the relationship between the two nations mutually beneficial and constructive. He recalled that Russia has provided 50,000 doses of its Covid-19 Sputnik-V vaccine.

Qureshi said that Islamabad will also buy 5 million doses of the vaccine and expressed a desire to eventually manufacture it in Pakistan.

Lavrov said that Russia has not forgotten the task of the establishment of a sovereign state of Palestine. “We feel we may continue in the path toward peace so that the Palestinian state will be established.”

He further said that Russia was ready to moderate a direct dialogue between Palestine and Israel.

In his comments, Qureshi said that Pakistan was keen to build a strong, multifaceted relationship with Russia.

He observed there was a new thinking in Pakistan with regard to building a renewed relationship with Russia. “The two countries, we feel, not only share geographic proximity […] Russia is a factor of stability in the Asian region and the world,” he said.

Qureshi said that Pakistan wanted to build a relationship with Russia that is based on trust. He said that Moscow has always advocated the primacy of international law and multilateralism. “These are principles that Pakistan adheres to. Our coordination and cooperation at the United Nations level have been excellent.”

At this, Lavrov reaffirmed the commitment to deepen ties with Pakistan and create win-win cooperation between the two countries.

Pointing to the discussion that took place on the spectrum of bilateral relations, Qureshi said that the two countries have agreed to hold an intergovernmental commission meeting later this year in Moscow, expressing the confidence it will lay the foundation for a meaningful economic relationship between Pakistan and Russia.

Qureshi further said that Moscow acknowledged Islamabad’s successful campaign against terrorism and extremism.

He said that he also briefed his Russian counterpart about the gravity of the human rights situation in Indian Occupied Kashmir (IOK).

Describing Lavrov’s visit as an important one, Qureshi said that it is taking place after almost a decade. He noted that the visit will further deepen the bilateral relationship as we intend to maintain this momentum and high-level contacts.

PM REAFFIRMS SUPPORT FOR PIPEPLINE: 

Prime Minister Imran Khan reaffirmed Pakistan’s resolve to expeditiously conclude the requisite legal process for the Pakistan Stream (North-South) Gas Pipeline project and commence the work as early as possible.

Talking to Russia Foreign Minister Lavrov, who called on him in Islamabad, the PM reiterated the importance Pakistan attaches to its relations with Russia as a key foreign policy priority.

He expressed satisfaction at the steady growth in bilateral ties, including deepening cooperation in trade, energy, security and defence.

Enhanced bilateral cooperation in the fields of energy, industrial modernization, railways and aviation was discussed.

It was agreed that the Inter-Governmental Commission, due to meet in Moscow later this year, would closely pursue specific proposals and projects in this context.

Views were exchanged on the health and economic challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The prime minister congratulated Russia on its development of the Sputnik-V vaccine and underscored Pakistan’s procurement plans in this regard.

In the regional context, the premier stressed the importance of a negotiated political settlement of the conflict in Afghanistan.

He said that Pakistan appreciates Russia’s efforts in promoting the Afghan peace process including through the hosting of the recent meeting of Extended Troika in Moscow.

With reference to the situation in IOK, Prime Minister Imran shared Pakistan’s perspective on issues of peace and security in South Asia, including the need for peaceful resolution of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute.

Views were also exchanged on the situation in West Asia, the Gulf, the Middle East, and the Asia-Pacific region.

The prime minister reiterated his invitation to President Putin to visit Pakistan at his earliest convenience.

LAVROV MEETS COAS:

Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, while talking to Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov, said that Pakistan welcomes all initiatives which can bring peace and stability in Afghanistan as the whole region will benefit from it.

The Russian FM called on COAS Bajwa in Rawalpindi and during the meeting, matters of mutual interest including enhanced defence and security cooperation, regional security, particularly the Afghan peace process, were discussed.

General Bajwa said that Pakistan has no hostile designs towards any country and it will keep on working towards a cooperative regional framework based on sovereign equality and mutual progress.

The visiting dignitary acknowledged Pakistan’s achievements in the war against terrorism and contributions for regional peace and stability especially Pakistan’s sincere efforts in the Afghan peace process.

IMPORTANT VISIT:

The visit underlines the waning influence of the United States in the region, while Russian and Chinese clout grows, The Associated Press quoted Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia Programme at the Washington-based Wilson Center, as saying.

“There’s a good reason why this is the first Russian foreign minister visit to Islamabad for nearly a decade: Russia-Pakistan relations are on the ascent,” he said in an interview, also noting a new 25-year development agreement between Iran and China.

Pakistan also is a key player in China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) — a massive, cross-continental infrastructure development project aimed at expanding China’s commercial connections globally.

“America will soon be ceding important real estate to its top rivals,” said Kugelman. “That’s the cost of an impending US withdrawal from the region. But with the US intent on pulling back, it is seemingly a cost it is willing to bear.”

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