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MOSCOW: Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov prior to their meeting on Tuesday.—Reuters
MOSCOW: Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov prior to their meeting on Tuesday.—Reuters

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan and Russia on Tuesday announced setting up of a commission for promoting military cooperation while expressing alarm over growing footprint of the militant Islamic State (IS) group in Afghanistan and the indifference of US-led Nato forces present in the conflict-ridden country to the problem.

The announcement was made in Moscow at a joint press conference by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his Pakistani counterpart Khawaja Asif after their bilateral talks.

Mr Asif is on a four-day visit to Moscow.

“We are forming a military cooperation commission in line with our inter-governmental agreement in this area,” Mr Lavrov said as he expressed Moscow’s readiness to strengthen Pakistan’s counterterrorism capabilities.

“Pakistan is willing to partner with Russia to promote peace and stability in the region and beyond,” Mr Asif said.

Pakistan and Russia in Nov 2014 signed a defence cooperation agreement and subsequently the two sides in Oct 2015 inked military-technical cooperation accord providing for arms supplies and cooperation in weapon development.

Incidentally both pacts were signed during Mr Asif’s tenure as defence minister, who at the press conference fondly recalled his six visits to Russia during the past four years — the highest number of trips to any country in his official capacity as a minister.

Russia, Mr Lavrov recalled, had provided four Mi-35M combat and cargo helicopters to Pakistan and the militaries of the two countries also held joint drills codenamed ‘Friendship’.

The discussions between Mr Lavrov and Mr Asif were wide ranging to include trade, economic, and energy cooperation and people-to-people contacts besides defence cooperation, but from their statements it appeared that the two extensively focused on the aggravating situation in Afghanistan and the growing threat of IS there.

Russia has been extremely worried about the narcotics and IS threat emanating from the war-ravaged Afghanistan.

“We are concerned that security situation in Afghanistan is exacerbating. Terrorism is on the rise and drugs threat is very much present. We see ISIS getting foothold in the region and presence of US and Nato forces has not brought stability,” the Russian foreign minister said.

He criticised President Trump’s new strategy for Afghanistan and said that Russia and Pakistan agree that the policy “lacks potential”.

Mr Asif seconded Mr Lavrov’s statement noting: “Afghanistan is in a painful situation. We share concerns relating to threats posed by the prevailing situation of terrorism, exponential increase in drug production, use of drug money for terrorism financing, and increasing presence of Daesh [IS] to the security of regional countries”.

Trade cooperation

Speaking about trade and economic ties, Mr Lavrov said both countries had agreed to boost economic relations, especially in the energy sector while Mr Asif said that the two countries would redouble efforts to deepen cooperation in establishing a multi-dimensional partnership.

The Russian side emphasised on implementation of the ‘specific agreements’ reached during the last meeting of the bilateral inter-governmental commission and expressed interest in promoting cooperation in the energy sector.

Published in Dawn, February 21st, 2018

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