ISLAMABAD: In an unprecedented exchange between Russia and Pakistan, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov jetted into Islamabad on Wednesday to reassure Pakistani leader-ship that President Putin remained committed to resetting ties despite cancellation of his visit, while Army Chief Gen Ashfaq Pervez Kiani flew to Russia for consolidating progress in defence cooperation.
Mr Lavrov arrived in the evening on a two-day visit during which he is scheduled to meet his counterpart Hina Rabbani Khar and Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf. It was not clear till Wednesday night if the visiting foreign minister would get an audience with President Asif Ali Zardari.
The foreign ministry attributed the difficulties in setting up Zardari-Lavrov meeting to scheduling issues, but sources believe that Mr Putin’s snub is still playing on Mr Zardari’s mind. Till the filing of this report, president’s foreign policy aides were pushing hard for the meeting to take place.
In his discussions with his Pakistani interlocutors, Mr Lavrov would seek to define the future of relationship.
The simultaneous visits took place against the backdrop of this week’s cancellation of President Putin’s trip. The cancellation shocked the government which had significantly invested in rebuilding relationship with Russia after decades of mistrust and acrimony.
Diplomatic observers believe that the two visits were important for getting past the momentary hiccup in renewal of relations.
While the two men, to quote Prensa Latina news agency, practically crossed each other midair, their goal was same – ensuring that the trajectory of the ties achieved over the past few years continued unaffected.
“We have a lot to gain from each other in terms of shared objectives,” a senior Pakistani diplomat said.
Mr Lavrov was invited by Foreign Minister Khar earlier this year, but dates for his trip had to be pulled up after Mr Putin opted against travelling to Islamabad for bilateral meetings and a quadrilateral summit on Afghanistan.
“They (Russians) must have realised that President Putin’s decision would not go well in Islamabad, which has acquired a new found strategic significance in their calculus for the region,” an official said, adding that the mere fact that Mr Lavrov was visiting Pakistan showed the significance Moscow attached to its ties with Pakistan.
Visits may be helpful for consolidating a relationship but in the world of diplomacy the long-term convergences sustain ties.
Russia and Pakistan have convergence of views on Afghanistan, regional stability and counter-narcotics efforts. Russia additionally sees Pakistan as a country playing an important role in countering terrorism and achievement of its vision of regional connectivity.
Accordingly, Russia moved to bolster its economic and security cooperation with the one time South Asian foe, while Pakistan, because of troubled relationship with the US, embraced the rapprochement for diversifying the sources of its military supplies.
In Moscow, Gen Kayani will hold discussions on furthering bilateral cooperation, particularly in the field of defence.
“His visit will help in establishing defence collaboration on a sustainable basis,” ISPR Director General Maj-Gen Asim Bajwa said.