ISLAMABAD: Pakistan and Russia agreed on Tuesday to take concrete steps for injecting substance in the bilateral relationship.

“The Russian Deputy Foreign Minister is visiting Pakistan to hold 2nd Round of Bilateral Strategic Dialogue with Pakistan. The Dialogue held with Mr Nadeem Riyaz, Additional Secretary (Europe), focused on a review of political, economic, parliamentary and cultural relations,” a Foreign Office statement said.

The two sides also explored possibilities for enhancing cooperation in the energy sector.

The composition of Pakistani delegation led by an additional secretary prompted speculations about Islamabad losing interest in the process and, therefore, quietly lowering its level of engagement.

At the inaugural edition of the dialogue held last year in Moscow, the Pakistani side in contrast, was led by the then Foreign Secretary Jalil Abbas Jilani.

Russians have, meanwhile, kept their level of representation at the dialogue unchanged.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Morgulov Igor Vladimirovich, who was the leader of Russian delegation at the talks last year, was again heading his team at the Islamabad meeting.

The commencement of the strategic dialogue in 2013 had marked a new phase in Pak-Russia bilateral ties that had been characterised by a long history of estrangement. The strategic dialogue was then said to have provided the institutional framework for rebuilding the relationship.

Deputy Foreign Minister Morgulov, however, separately met Adviser to the Prime Minister on National Security and Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Tariq Fatemi and Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhry.

“Both sides shared their resolve to undertake concrete steps to enhance their cooperation, especially in the economic sphere to strengthen the existing cordial relations,” the statement on the latest round of dialogue said.

Russians had long complained of absence of substance in the bilateral dialogue. Russian President Vladimir Putin had cancelled his trip to Pakistan in 2012 for lacking deliverables.

Issues such as absence of bilateral Preferential Trade Agreement and Free Trade Agreement; and existence of unresolved financial disputes including the issue of $160 million of Russian money held by Pakistani banks have been impeding progress in ties.

The statement on the dialogue, importantly, made no mention of the defence cooperation which formed the basis of reset in ties and is still said to be going strong.

Commenting on the strategic dialogue with Russia, former additional secretary Munawer Bhatti said it was on a positive and constructive trajectory.

About lower level of representation from Pakistani side, Mr Bhatti said that it was true that Foreign Secretary Jilani led the delegation at last round, but the additional secretary was the actual counterpart of a deputy foreign minister in Russian hierarchy.

Protocol mismatch has been a chronic problem in Pakistan’s foreign policy operations and has mostly been caused by the nature and level of engagement with the other country concerned.

Published in Dawn, October 22nd, 2014