Russia’s foreign minister on Wednesday said Moscow and Islamabad would boost ties in the fight against terrorism, with Russia providing unspecified military equipment to Pakistan and the two holding more joint exercises at sea and in the mountains.
Sergey Lavrov’s two-day trip to Pakistan is the first visit by a Russian foreign minister in nine years, part of a warming in once frosty relations. It comes as Moscow seeks to increase its stature in the region, particularly in Afghanistan, where it has sought to inject itself as a key player in accelerated efforts to find a peaceful end to decades of war.
“We stand ready to strengthen the anti-terrorist potential of Pakistan, including by supplying Pakistan with special military equipment,” Lavrov said, without going into detail about the equipment. He added that an agreement was also reached on conducting additional joint military exercises such as the Arabian Monsoon maritime drill.
Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said Pakistan had "looked at our cooperation in defence and counterterrorism and we feel that we have within our framework of dialogue [involving] strategic stability and counterterrorism opportunities of interaction and we feel we can help each other".
"I am grateful to the foreign minister that he has acknowledged the progress Pakistan has made in defeating and reversing terrorism and extremism and they're more than happy to further build our capacity on that."
As Washington reviews an agreement it signed more than a year ago with the Taliban and rethinks a May 1 withdrawal of its soldiers, Moscow has stepped up its involvement in Afghanistan, emerging as a significant player. Last month it hosted talks between the Taliban and senior government officials and Lavrov suggested another high-level meeting could again be held in Moscow.
Lavrov arrived in Pakistan on Tuesday from India, with whom Moscow has had a long and solid relationship. The apparent reset in Pakistani-Russian relations however is, by contrast, a recent phenomenon.
Russia is also building a gas pipeline between Karachi and Lahore. Qureshi said Pakistan also wanted Russian expertise to modernise the country's railway system as well as its energy sector.
Lavrov said Moscow had offered delivery of liquified natural gas to Pakistan through Russian companies Gazprom and Novatek. "Russia’s Rosatom and Pakistan’s Nuclear Energy Commission were in touch for cooperation for use of technology for medicine and industry," he said.
Speaking about Pakistan's ongoing Covid-19 inoculation campaign, Qureshi said Russia's Sputnik V vaccine was being used and "getting good results".
"We are interested in the commercial purchase of five million doses from Russia depending on availability in your production levels, and keeping our population in view, I think there are opportunities for local production and joint ventures and there are interested parties who would want to examine this."
Lavrov noted that Russia had provided 50,000 vaccine doses to Pakistan and said it intended to provide 150,000 more.
While stressing the need for a resolution to the Afghan conflict, the Russian foreign minister also said "we should not forget the task of establishment of the state of Palestine." He added that Russia was committed to facilitate a dialogue between Palestine and Israel.
Qureshi said there was now a "new approach and a new mindset for Russia" in Pakistan because Russia was a player for stability on the global stage. "We want to build a relationship of trust and friendship with the Russian Federation," he said, adding that Pakistan also adhered to Russia's principles of the centrality of the UN, primacy of international law and multilateralism.
Qureshi, in his closing remarks, termed the visit of his Russian counterpart as "important", adding that "It has taken place after almost a decade and we feel this visit will further deepen our bilateral relations and our friendship and we intend to maintain this momentum in our high-level contacts."
Meeting with PM Imran and COAS
Foreign Minister Lavrov also separately called on Prime Minister Imran Khan and Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa later in the day. During the meeting with the premier , "bilateral relations and issues of regional and global importance were discussed", according to a statement from the Prime Minister's Office.
The premier recalled that he had underscored his desire to take the bilateral relationship between Russia and Pakistan to a new level during a meeting with President Vladimir Putin in June 2019.
"The prime minister reiterated the importance Pakistan attaches to its relations with Russia as a key foreign policy priority. He expressed satisfaction at the steady growth in bilateral ties, including deepening cooperation in trade, energy, security and defence," the statement said.
Additionally, Pakistan's "resolve to expeditiously conclude the requisite legal process for the 'Pakistan Stream' (North-South) Gas Pipeline project and commence the work as early as possible" was also reaffirmed, it said.
The foreign minister and Prime Minister Imran also discussed enhanced bilateral cooperation in the fields of energy, industrial modernisation, railways and aviation. "It was agreed that the intergovernmental commission, due to meet in Moscow later this year, would closely pursue specific proposals and projects in this context," the statement added.
Views were also exchanged on the health and economic challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic. Prime Minister Imran congratulated Russia on its development of the Sputnik V vaccine and highlighted Pakistan’s procurement plans in this regard.
"In the regional context, the prime minister stressed the importance of a negotiated political settlement of the conflict in Afghanistan. Pakistan appreciated Russia’s efforts in promoting the Afghan peace process including through the hosting of the recent meeting of extended Troika in Moscow," according to the handout.
With reference to the situation in Indian-occupied Kashmir, the prime minister shared "Pakistan’s perspective on issues of peace and security in South Asia, including the need for peaceful resolution of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute".
In Lavrov's meeting with Chief of Army Staff Gen Bajwa at the General Headquarters, “matters of mutual interest including enhanced defence and security cooperation [and] regional security, particularly the Afghan Peace Process,” were discussed, the military's media wing said.
According to the Inter-Services Public Relations statement, the Russian foreign minister acknowledged Pakistan’s achievements in the war against terrorism and contributions for regional peace and stability, saying “Pak-Russia relations are on a positive trajectory and will continue to develop in multiple domains.”
During the meeting, Gen Bajwa said Pakistan valued its relations with Russia and reciprocated the desire for enhanced bilateral military cooperation.
“Pakistan welcomes all initiatives which can bring peace and stability in Afghanistan as the whole region will benefit from it,” the statement quoted him as saying. “We have no hostile designs towards any country and will keep on working towards a cooperative regional framework based on sovereign equality and mutual progress," he added.
'Pak-Russia ties on the ascent'
The visit underlines the waning influence of the United States in the region, while Russian and Chinese clout grows, said Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia Programme at the US-based Wilson Centre.
“There’s a good reason why this is the first Russian foreign minister visit to Islamabad for nearly a decade: Russia-Pakistan relations are on the ascent,” he said in an interview, also noting a new 25-year development agreement between Iran and China.
Pakistan also is a key player in China’s Belt and Road Initiative — a massive, cross-continental infrastructure development project aimed at expanding China’s commercial connections globally.
“America will soon be ceding important real estate to its top rivals,” said Kugelman. “That’s the cost of an impending US withdrawal from the region. But with the US intent on pulling back, it is seemingly a cost it is willing to bear.”
Arrival at the Foreign Office
Earlier in the day, Qureshi welcomed Lavrov at the Foreign Office (FO) for delegation-level talks on a number of important issues from enhancing bilateral cooperation to the Afghan peace process.
"Building multi-dimensional relations with Russia is a key priority for Pakistan and we believe a strong relationship contributes to regional stability and global security," Qureshi said in a statement after his meeting with Lavrov.
Lavrov planted a tree at the FO lawn as part of his visit on Wednesday.
Foreign Minister Qureshi said in a statement on Twitter that avenues for furthering economic diplomacy were discussed with his Russian counterpart, including progress in sectors of energy cooperation such as the Pakistan Stream Gas Pipeline Project.
During the talks, detailed discussions were held on the promotion of economic, trade and defence cooperation.
"We are providing many facilities for foreign investors to invest in Pakistan, including e-visa," said Qureshi. Pakistan and Russia also agreed to hold the next meeting of the intergovernmental commission on promotion of economic cooperation.
"We reviewed our cooperation in the field of security including counter-terrorism and defence."
The foreign minister said both he and Lavrov had "agreed on the need to promote greater people-to-people contact through greater collaboration across a diversity of fields, including education". He cited the framework of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation as an avenue through which cooperation could be enhanced.
Qureshi said Pakistan and Russia shared "convergent positions" on several issues such as the Afghan peace process. He highlighted Pakistan's role in the peace process, adding that Pakistan had been making sincere efforts to establish peace in the region and in Afghanistan.
He also praised Russia's efforts in the peace process, citing the trilateral meeting held in Moscow last month.
Qureshi said Lavrov had been apprised of the "worsening human rights situation" in Indian-occupied Kashmir. "Pakistan wants peace in the region and supports the peaceful resolution of all disputes including Kashmir issue."
The Russian foreign minister thanked Qureshi for the warm welcome and reiterated his commitment to enhancing bilateral cooperation in areas of mutual interest, including the promotion of bilateral economic, trade and defence cooperation.
"We are confident that this visit will give further momentum to our deepening friendship and we remain committed to expanding our relations in diverse areas through further high-level contacts."