Pakistan and Russia agreed on Thursday to arrange a high-profile bilateral visit to either of the two country’s capitals to showcase improvement in their ties that suffered a temporary setback after President Vladimir Putin cancelled his keenly awaited visit to Islamabad earlier this week.
Addressing a joint media briefing after completing his consultations with Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, visiting Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov endorsed Pakistan’s stance on drone attacks.
“We are working on both proposals of Mr Putin visiting Pakistan or President Asif Zardari travelling to Russia. It is still unclear which one finally works out,” a foreign ministry official said.
The visit would be worked out through diplomatic channels, he said.
Mr Putin had invited Mr Zardari to Russia while conveying regrets for his inability to come to Islamabad for a quadrilateral summit on Afghanistan and bilateral talks.
Mr Lavrov, who had rushed to Islamabad, according to Ms Khar on “a two-day notice”, after postponing his visit to New Delhi, for damage control, insisted that the Russian president had pulled out of the visit only due to “scheduling issues”.
Playing a perfect host, Ms Khar, at a joint media briefing with the visiting minister, asked the doubting reporters to accept Mr Lavrov’s explanation of the cancellation.
“He had conveyed the same to me privately. It was nothing more, or less, than a scheduling problem,” she said and added that a single visit couldn’t be a test of the strength of relations or their trajectory.
During Mr Lavrov’s meetings with Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf and Foreign Minister Khar, he was repeatedly assured of Pakistan’s sincerity towards materialising various memorandums of understanding signed with Russia.
“I hope in the next few months we’ll be able to move beyond MoUs to specific projects,” FM Khar said at the media interaction.
Prime Minister Ashraf echoed his foreign minister when Mr Lavrov visited him at the Prime Minister’s House.
The government would extend all possible assistance to the Russian Federation in securing contracts in Pakistan and their execution, he assured the visiting foreign minister.
“Pakistan seeks to increase economic relations and benefit from the expertise of the Russian Federation, especially in the energy sector where Russia has experience in coal mining and power plants. Similarly, Pakistan seeks Russian Federation’s cooperation in expansion of Pakistan Steel Mills.”
The assurances were made because of Russian complaints about lack of progress on the MoUs already signed.
“Russian-Pakistani relations have been on the rise in recent years, but progress has been mostly at political and emotional levels, while economic ties have lagged behind,” a Russian official had said in a media interview while explaining reasons for Mr Putin not coming to Islamabad.
Moscow has been upset over lack of progress on regional connectivity and energy projects, including CASA-1000, TAPI, laying of rail tracks and roads from Tajikistan to Pakistan and the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline.
Russia has been looking to expand its influence in the region through involvement in energy and infrastructure projects.
Mr Lavrov, who couldn’t get an appointment with President Zardari, however, said he was “satisfied with the substance” of his talks.
CONVERGENCES: Both the foreign ministers underscored a convergence of opinion on various issues between the two governments.
Ms Khar said: “We have common concerns for the region — Afghanistan, emerging issues within the region, Syria and Libya.”
Mr Lavrov endorsed Pakistan’s position on drones and said any solution for Afghanistan should come from within that country.
He also expressed the Russian government’s support for President Zardari’s initiative of convening a ministerial conference in November on countering narcotics.
APP adds: The Russian foreign minister, while backing Pakistan’s stance against drone strikes, termed them a violation of the country’s sovereignty and integrity.
“It is not right to violate the sovereignty and integrity of any state. We fully support Pakistan’s stance.”
In reply to a question, Hina Rabbani Khar said Pakistan had always stated categorically that such attacks were not only illegal but also counter-productive.
She said the position Pakistan took on drone strikes in closed-door meetings and in public was the same.
She stressed the need to deal with the issue of terrorism by legal means only.
Ms Khar said killing one or two terrorists at the cost of collateral damage could help win a battle but would lose hearts and minds.