ISLAMABAD: With Russian President Vladimir Putin’s cancelled visit still a hot issue at home, Army Chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani will be visiting Moscow next week on a four-day visit.
“Dates for Gen Kayani’s visit to Russia have been finalised and he would be in Moscow from Oct 3-6,” a close aide to the army chief told Dawn.
Gen Kayani’s visit was in the planning for months, but got additional focus because of cancellation of Mr Putin’s visit to Pakistan, which would have been a landmark trip because he would have been the first Russian president to visit Pakistan.
The army chief was originally expected to carry forward the strengthening of military-to-military relations initiated by Russian Military Chief Col-Gen Alexander Postnikov’s visit to Pakistan in May last year. But now Mr Kayani would additionally have to address the temporary hiccup in the reset of ties and seek continuation of the process that led to vast improvement in the relationship after decades of mistrust.
President Putin had decided against visiting Pakistan on the pretext that engagement lacked substance and was more rhetorical.
During his visit, Gen Kayani will have several high-level engagements with the Russian political leadership in addition to the dialogue with his counterpart on expanding relations between the two militaries.
Interestingly, Gen Kayani’s last visit to Moscow in 2009 at the invitation of then Russian Ground Forces Chief Gen Vladimir Boldyrev led to the meeting between then Russian President Medvedev and President Zardari on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. The Medvedev-Zardari meeting in 2010 set the ground for the silent rapprochement that followed.
A senior defence official described the army chief’s visit as a major breakthrough in the Pak-Russia defence ties.
A diplomat at the FO, meanwhile, said that engagement with Russia was meant to “safeguard national interests as well as deepen consultations”.
The renewal of Pak-Russia ties is based on a two-pronged strategy — building economic/trade cooperation chiefly through infrastructure and energy projects and security collaboration.
Some of the ideas that Pakistan and Russia have been discussing for expanding security relations include joint military exercises, exchanging trainees and trainers and sale of military hardware.