Islamabad, Moscow pledge to boost ties

-Russian FM holds separate talks with PM, COAS, FM
-Offers military support to counter terrorism
-Vows full support in energy, security & Vaccine needs
-PM assures early start of Gas pipeline project
-Reiterates invitation to President Putin

By Asghar Ali Mubarak

ISLAMABAD: 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. Russian FM also hold separate talks with Prime Minister Imran Khan, COAS Bajwa and FM Qureshi during his two days visit.
During meeting 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. He expressed these views during a meeting with Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation Sergey Lavrov, who called on him here.
Pakistan-Russia bilateral relations and issues of regional and global importance were discussed in the meeting. The Prime Minister fondly recalled his interaction with President Vladimir Putin during the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Summit in Bishkek in June 2019, where he had underscored his desire to take the bilateral relationship to a new level. He reiterated the importance Pakistan attached to its relations with Russia as a key foreign policy priority. The Prime Minister 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 (IGC), due to meet in Moscow later this year, would closely pursue specific proposals and projects in that context.
Views were also exchanged on the health and economic challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Prime Minister congratulated Russia on its development of Sputnik-V Vaccine and underscored Pakistan’s procurement plans in that regard. In the regional context, the Prime Minister stressed the importance of a negotiated political settlement of the conflict in Afghanistan. Pakistan appreciated 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 Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK), the Prime Minister 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.
Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who is in Islamabad on a two-day visit, said on Wednesday Moscow is ready to extend military support, including provision of security equipment, to Pakistan to strengthen its counter terrorism capacity.
Addressing a joint news conference alongside FM Shah Mahmood Qureshi, he said both countries have agreed to conduct more military exercises and drills. Lavrov expressed satisfaction over an increase in the volume of bilateral trade and stressed that there is a need to further diversify it.
About opportunities in the energy sector, the Russian FM said both countries are now discussing a new protocol on Stream Gas Pipeline project and as soon as it is signed, the construction work on the project will commence.
He termed the relationship between the two countries mutually beneficial and constructive. “We have provided 50,000 doses of anti Covid vaccine to Pakistan and intend to provide 150,000 more,” he announced.
Talking about the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan, he said Pakistan and Russia have agreed to further facilitate the parties to reach an agreement to put an end to the conflict through an inclusive political dialogue. FM Qureshi said Pakistan is keen to build a strong multifaceted relationship with Russia. “There is a new approach and mindset in Pakistan for relationship with Russia. We feel that not just we have geographic proximity but Russia is a factor of stability in the region and the world at large,” he pointed out. He said Pakistan wants to build a relationship of trust with Russia. Moscow has always advocated primacy of international law and multilateralism, he added. “Our coordination and cooperation at the United Nations level has been excellent,” Qureshi said and reaffirmed the commitment to deepen relations with Russia and create win-win cooperation between the two countries.
Moreover, Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, met his Pakistani counterpart in Islamabad on Wednesday for talks on a troubled peace process in Afghanistan, where both countries have long histories of involvement. It was the first time a Russian foreign minister had visited Pakistan in nine years and comes at a sensitive time for Afghanistan with peace talks making little headway and a deadline looming for the United States to withdraw its forces. “(Pakistan and Russia) share convergent positions on several issues … including peace and stability in Afghanistan,” Pakistan’s foreign minister, Shah Mahmoud Qureshi, said on Twitter after their meeting.
The two ministers also discussed economic relations, energy and counter-terrorism cooperation, and progress on a major gas pipeline project. Lavrov was also due to meet Prime Minister Imran Khan, the Pakistan foreign ministry said in a statement. In the 1980s, Pakistan and the United States were the main supporters of the Islamist fighters who battled occupying Soviet forces. Now, Russia is concerned about Afghan instability spilling over into central Asia as the United States seeks to extricate itself from a war in Afghanistan against the Islamist Taliban, who Pakistan has for years been accused of supporting.
Pakistan denies that.
Russia hosted an international conference on Afghanistan in Moscow last month at which the participants, including the United States, China and Pakistan, issued a statement calling on the warring Afghan sides to reach a peace deal and curb violence.
“A common concern is the situation in Afghanistan,” Russia’s foreign ministry said in a statement on Wednesday on Lavrov’s visit to Pakistan. “We look forward to an early finding of a constructive solution in order to end the civil war in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan through agreements on the formation of an inclusive government with the participation of the Taliban movement.” The United States signed an agreement with the Taliban last year allowing it to withdraw its forces in exchange for a Taliban guarantee to prevent international terrorism.
But fighting between the U.S.-backed Afghan government and the Taliban still rages. The United States is pushing for an interim Afghan government between the two sides as a May 1 deadline approaches for it to withdraw its forces under the pact. President Joe Biden has said that date will be hard to meet despite Taliban threats of more violence if it is not.
Agencies add: Concluding his visit with a pledge to focus on efforts to bring peace to Afghanistan, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Wednesday said 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 percent increase in trade between the two countries. He, however, stressed there is a need to further diversify it. Discussing the opportunities in the energy sector, he said 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 Russia has provided 50,000 doses of its Covid-19 Sputnik-V vaccine.
Qureshi said Islamabad will also buy 5 million doses of the vaccine and expressed a desire to eventually manufacture it in Pakistan. Lavrov said 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 Russia was ready to moderate a direct dialogue between Palestine and Israel. In his comments, Qureshi said 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 Pakistan wanted to build a relationship with Russia that is based on trust. He said 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 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 Moscow acknowledged Islamabad’s successful campaign against terrorism and extremism. He said he also briefed his Russian counterpart about the gravity of the human rights situation in Indian-occupied Jammu and Kashmir.