Right decision to go ahead with Russia trip, says FM Qureshi

Published February 25, 2022
Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi gestures while addressing the members of the media in Islamabad on February 25. — AFP
Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi gestures while addressing the members of the media in Islamabad on February 25. — AFP

Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi asserted on Friday that the government's decision to go ahead with the recently concluded Moscow visit was correct, explaining that there had been a shift in the country's foreign policy towards geoeconomics, which warranted progress on regional connectivity.

"If we have to move towards geoeconomics, a natural conclusion for this [to happen] is to make progress on [developing] regional connectivity [with] Afghanistan and beyond Afghanistan into Central Asian republics. And if we have to move towards regional connectivity, then Russia has an historical role ... in this region," he said while addressing a press conference in Islamabad.

"Russia being onboard will fortify our [shift in] focus towards geoeconomic regional connectivity."

The foreign minister said this and several other factors were considered before it was decided to go ahead with the Moscow visit.

"We went ahead and I am convinced after this visit that we did the right thing in going ahead," he added.

The visit coincided with escalating tensions between Russia and the West as the former launched an operation in neighbouring Ukraine.

The timing of the visit has been questioned but top Pakistani government officials termed it one of the rarest opportunities for the energy-starved country to make headway in energy and regional connectivity.

Addressing the matter, Qureshi told media persons the before Prime Minister Imran Khan left for Moscow along with a delegation of ministers, he had presided over a meeting to analyse the evolving conflict.

He said the current foreign secretary and four former foreign secretaries, former ambassadors, including those who served in Moscow, and other senior officials were present at the meeting.

"We consulted [them], we weighed pros and cons and then decided the way forward accordingly," the foreign minister said, dispelling the impression that the decision to visit Moscow was not well thought out.

He emphasised the importance of "collective wisdom" in this regard, saying that he had been inviting former ambassadors and foreign secretaries for consultation and advice after assuming the role of foreign minister.

"Institutional memory is of good use and we should benefit from experience," he said. "Using this collective wisdom, we concluded that the solid rationale for consolidation of our bilateral relations with Russia should not be lost sight of. In light of this, we decided to keep our plan for the visit unchanged."

The foreign minister further said the objective of the visit was to "maximise the diplomatic space for Pakistan".

He described the visit as "satisfactory" and said, "I believe we made the right decision. Our diplomatic space has increased."

Moreover, Qureshi said, the government saw the visit as an opportunity to take Russia into confidence on the issue of Afghanistan and the evolving situation in South Asia, particularly with regards to Indian-occupied Kashmir.

"We saw [...] it as an important opportunity that should not be squandered."

In apparent criticism of rival opposition parties, he said he saw some tweets during the visit by individuals who were "panicking".

Refusing to name anyone, he said their tweets expressed worry. "But my prime minister, on the other hand, did not seem perturbed and was confident."

Qureshi said one of the reasons behind this could be that PM Imran did not have accounts or assets in any Western capital.

'US contacted Pakistan before Moscow visit'

He revealed that the US administration had made a "high-level" contact with Pakistan before the Moscow visit.

Using a catchword used by anchorperson Waseem Badami, Qureshi added: "They (the US) asked us a masoomana (innocent) question and we gave them a respectful reply."

When asked to elaborate further, he said the US conveyed its perspective and Pakistan communicated its point view, as well as the objective and background of the visit.

"And as I said, [the plan for the visit] remained unchanged."

'Will not be part of any camp'

Qureshi referred to a statement by PM Imran, wherein the premier said Pakistan did not want to be in a position that implied that it was part of a certain camp.

"In view of past experiences, we have made this big decision not to be part of any camp politics," the foreign minister reiterated.

"We will move forward with what is in the interest of Pakistan. Period. This is our focus, this is our priority, and we are moving forward in line with this [philosophy]," he said, adding that today, Pakistan was broadly engaged and had good relations with all major powers of the world.

In response to a question whether PM Imran's visit to Moscow did not give the impression that Pakistan was backing Russia in the ongoing conflict, Qureshi said it depended on how one viewed things.

"We are not part of any camp politics and we don't intend to be," he added.

The foreign minster said Pakistan had paid a huge price for being part of camp politics, adding that it would "maintain ties with all". In this connection, he gave the example of Germany, where he said he would visit soon.

Today, Qureshi said, Pakistan was presenting its stance before the world in a self-respecting manner.

"There is newness in our foreign policy and Pakistan is moving towards a self-respecting and independent foreign policy," he said. "We have shifted our focus from geopolitics to geoeconomics in light of past experiences."

Stance on Ukraine situation

To a question about whether PM Imran had made any offer to Russian President Vladimir Putin to mediate between Russia and Ukraine, the foreign minister said both leaders presented their stance on the matter in the meeting.

But, he said, the visit was not planned keeping in view the situation in Ukarine.

"It was being planned for a long time," Qureshi said, outlining multiple occasions of bilateral engagement with Russia. "This bilateral visit was planned in that context," he added.

However, he said, since a situation had arisen, "we presented our stance on the matter and heard theirs."

The foreign minister said PM Imran had spoken about the issue at an "appropriate time and place", stressing that it should be resolved through diplomacy.

"Because when a country or region engages in a military conflict, it results in a loss for all, especially developing countries," Qureshi said, adding that the results of the Russia-Ukraine conflict were already appearing in the shape of rising oil prices.

He called for exercising restraint and said there was still a possibility of resolving the issue through diplomatic efforts.

In response to a question, he said Pakistan had diplomatic ties with Ukraine and "we give importance to them."

Moreover, he said, "Our military ties with Russia are improving."

Assistance to citizens in Ukraine

The foreign minister assured that authorities in Pakistan were in touch with Pakistan's embassy in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv.

He said he had a detailed phone conversationwith Pakistan's ambassador to Ukraine before the press conference.

The minister said clear directives were also issued to Pakistan's embassy in Kyiv for ensuring the safety of the country's diaspora in Ukraine before the Moscow visit.

Moreover, he said, there were around 3,000 Pakistani students in Ukraine and the embassy had been contacted to ensure that they were moved to safe areas and eventually sent back home.

"We are in constant touch with them," he said, adding that in order to facilitate the student's evacuation, Pakistan's embassy had been shifted from Kyiv to Ternopil.

He dismissed reports that a Pakistani student had been killed in Ukraine.

"I spoke to the ambassador and he told me that all our children are safe so far," the minister said, expressing the hope that their evacuation would be completed soon. "Their anxiety is understandable and we will provide them all the help they need."

Recap of the visit

Qureshi began his speech with a round up of the visit, saying that the meeting between PM Imran and President Putin lasted for around three-and-a-half hours.

He said both leaders exchanged views on the improvement in and positive trajectory of ties between Pakistan and Russia over the past few years. Moreover, he said, regional matters, especially the situation in Afghanistan and the security and stability of South Asia, were discussed.

"PM Imran took him (Putin) into confidence over occupied Kashmir and shared Pakistan's stance on the matter," he added.

He said energy cooperation was also discussed in the meeting, with particular focus on Pakistan Stream gas pipeline, as well as the rising trend of Islamophobia.

When asked about the progress on the building of Pakistan Stream gas pipeline, which is being constructed in collaboration with Russia, Qureshi said there was agreement on most matters and there would be discussion on remaining issues next month.

"We hope that it will be completed soon," he added.

Qureshi further told media persons that Russia's Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak and Energy Minister Nikolay Shulginov called on PM Imran and discussed bilateral trade and investment opportunities.

Energy cooperation was also discussed with them, he said, adding that Pakistan had expressed interest in purchasing gas from Russia through a long-term government-to-government arrangement.

He said it was proposed that the gas pipeline between Russia and Uzbekistan be extended to Pakistan via Afghanistan.

The minister added that Russia had also expressed interest on the establishment of a liquified natural gas terminal in Gwadar.

He said PM Imran and other ministers had also addressed a forum of Russian and Pakistani businessmen and discussed opportunities for cooperative arrangement in the future.

"We also discussed ways to remove procedural bottlenecks in trade and economic linkages," added.

The foreign minister termed the discussion productive, adding that several businessmen had indicated interest in participating in a investment conference that would be organised in Islamabad in March.

PM Imran also visited Moscow's central mosque and met its grand mufti during the visit, he said.

The minister then shared some of the salient features from a statement issued by the Foreign Office after the visit.

When asked about opposition parties approaching Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf's allies, he said they may hold as many meetings as they want. "It does not affect us."

The foreign minister announce that he would visit Ghotki tomorrow where he would respond to the opposition.

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