ISLAMABAD, Sept 27: In a diplomatic setback for Pakistan, Russian President Vladimir Putin has cancelled his scheduled visit to Islamabad, forcing postponement of a quadrilateral summit involving Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan and Afghanistan planned for October 2-3.

“The Quadrilateral Summit (Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan and Afghanistan), which was planned in Islamabad from 2-3 October 2012, is being rescheduled,” a brief statement by the Foreign Office said on Thursday.

The summit on Afghanistan was postponed when in a letter to President Asif Zardari, President Putin expressed his inability to attend it. No reasons were given either by the Foreign Office or the Russian embassy in Islamabad for the cancellation of Mr Putin’s much anticipated trip to Islamabad.

There was also no statement from the Russian presidency or its ministry of foreign affairs on the cancellation of the visit.

While the main purpose of Mr Putin’s visit was to attend the quadrilateral summit, he was to extensively engage with Pakistani leadership for what was described as “formalising the silent reset” in Pak-Russia relations.

It would have been the first ever visit by a Russian president to Pakistan in the six-decade long Islamabad-Moscow relations, which have been largely uneasy and lacking in trust. Therefore, naturally there was a lot of hype around the high-profile visit from Moscow relegating the main event — quadrilateral summit — to almost a sideshow.

Both countries had been quietly pushing their rapprochement for close to four years now and had reportedly covered a lot of ground. President Zardari and Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who was then the president, were the architects of the ties renewal.

The endgame in Afghanistan was one of the major factors behind the developing Pak-Russia rapprochement that had been based on trade and security cooperation.

The absence of explanation both from Islamabad and Moscow fuelled speculations about what went wrong.

Nonetheless, there were some pointers in the excerpts of President Putin’s letter released to the media. Mr Putin emphasised on advancing “mutually beneficial trade and economic projects”.

Diplomatic observers believe that President Putin was not pleased with Pakistan’s less than keen response to Russian interest in the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project.

Russia’s deputy minister for energy and representatives of leading energy giant Gazprom, the state-controlled gas monopoly, attended the Pak-Russia Inter-Governmental Commission earlier this month (September 10). At the meeting, Gazprom representatives gave a presentation on the pipeline and reiterated the interest during a meeting with President Zardari.

However, no firm commitments were given to the Russian delegation which wanted to get the project without bidding.

A source privy to the discussions said Pakistanis had contended that exemption from bidding would violate the rules of the Public Procurement Regulatory Authority. But, the Russians, it is said, weren’t convinced.

Gazprom also has interests in the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (Tapi) gas pipeline project.

Russia has been keenly pushing for increasing its energy footprint in the region because of economic and strategic goals.

Moscow was desirous of investing $500 million in CASA-1,000 (Central Asia-South Asia) electricity transmission project.

Announcement by the Russian presidency that Mr Putin would be visiting Tajikistan in the week he was due in Pakistan made it clear that the cancellation of the visit to Islamabad had to do more with something bilateral.

India, analysts say, could have also factored in the Russian decision given their longstanding ties with Delhi.

On the brighter side, whatever caused the cancellation, Mr Putin left the door open for making mends.

“I am confident that in future we shall be able to find opportunities for arranging our personal meeting,” Mr Putin said in the letter.

It was, nevertheless, obvious that he is not intending to visit Pakistan anytime soon as he indirectly invited Mr Zardari to Moscow.

“We shall always be happy to receive you in Russia.”

Kayani’s Russia visit: Military sources said Army Chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani’s visit to Moscow scheduled for next month was on course despite cancellation of Mr Putin’s visit.

They wouldn’t, however, disclose the dates.

Russian military chief Col-Gen Alexander Postnikov visited Pakistan last year. During his discussions with Gen Kayani, Gen Postnikov had proposed the possibility of expanding defence ties by holding joint military exercises, exchanging trainees and trainers and selling and buying weapons.

Russians have also proposed to provide a wide range of counter-terrorism equipment. The package on offer includes 10 MI-17 helicopters of unarmed configuration.

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