RUSSIAN Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov struck the right tone during his visit to Pakistan. In a press conference along with Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Mr Lavrov said Russia was ready to promote bilateral cooperation with Pakistan in diverse fields including economy, trade and defence. The importance of his visit can be gauged from the fact that it is after nearly a decade that the top diplomat of Russia has made a trip to Pakistan. In the last 15 years or so, both countries have made a concerted effort to improve ties and establish solid grounds for building a stronger and mutually beneficial relationship for the years ahead. The present times accord a good opportunity to undertake such an endeavour. Pakistan’s foreign policy is aligned with regional realities. In a strategically vital neighbourhood, Pakistan is well placed to leverage its ties with key countries in order to effectively pursue its national interests. Pakistan is doing well to avoid the label of being in any one camp and it is important that it is recognised as a regional player that is on good terms with major powers such as China, the US and Russia. While Russia retains a global reach in its policy, it is one of the most influential countries in our region and Mr Qureshi was right when he said that Russia is a factor of stability in the region. This makes Pakistan’s ties with Russia crucial from all aspects.

Pakistan has genuine policy interests in Afghanistan, India, Iran and the Middle East. Russia wields significant influence in all these spheres. Pakistan has been gradually investing in this relationship in recent years and the Russian foreign minister’s productive visit appears to be one of the dividends of this diplomatic investment. However, the real challenge for Islamabad is to translate this improved relationship into tangible projects. The key project that requires Pakistan’s highest priority is the North-South gas pipeline from Karachi to Lahore. Prime Minister Imran Khan also highlighted the importance of this joint Pakistan-Russia project in his meeting with Mr Lavrov. In addition, Russia has also shown an interest in the Steel Mill which in fact had been initially set up by the USSR. Pakistan can benefit from this renewed interest from Moscow.

Mr Lavrov also assured his counterpart that Russia would be sending more Sputnik vaccine to Pakistan and this is a welcome gesture as vaccines are not easy to come by in the international market. Similarly, defence cooperation is a key area. It was announced that Russia would provide more counterterrorism equipment to Pakistan which is perhaps an acknowledgement of Pakistan’s success in this area. Five rounds of Pakistan-Russia military exercises have already taken place. Pakistan-Russia ties are on an upward trajectory and it is important that Islamabad put greater effort into strengthening them even further.

Published in Dawn, April 9th, 2021

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