The Foreign Office on Friday confirmed that Prime Minister Imran Khan would undertake what is seen as a landmark visit to Russia next week, bringing a turnaround in the relationship between the former two Cold-War rivals.
At a weekly news briefing, Foreign Office spokesperson Asim Iftikhar told reporters that the prime minister would visit Moscow at the invitation of Russian President Vladimir Putin. He, however, did not share his exact itinerary, saying such details would be shared at an appropriate time.
Official sources, nevertheless, said PM Imran is scheduled to travel to Russia on February 23. This would be the first official bilateral visit by an elected prime minister in 23 years.
The last time any Pakistani premier undertook an official visit to the country was when former prime minister Nawaz Sharif visited Moscow in March 1999. In between, former military ruler General Pervez Musharraf, president Asif Ali Zardari and prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi did visit Russia but none of them was official bilateral trips.
The visit will be closely watched by outside the country as well, particularly the US given the current crisis over Ukraine. India would also keenly follow the PM’s visit since New Delhi has a long-term strategic partnership with Moscow. But in recent years, as India inched closer to the US, Russia has also made moves to improve ties with Pakistan.
The process of rapprochement began during the later years of Musharraf but picked up pace in 2011 when Pakistan’s relationship with the US went haywire. At that time Pakistan decided to diversify its foreign policy options and reach out to Russia.
The PM’s visit is seen as part of the ongoing efforts by the two sides to bury their bitter past and enter into a new era of cooperation.
It is expected that the visit would focus on how to improve bilateral ties, particularly in the economic and trade sectors. Progress is also expected on the Pakistan Stream Gas Pipeline project that the Russian company would undertake in Pakistan laying a pipeline from Karachi to Kasur.
On the diplomatic side, the two countries are expected to discuss the regional security situation with a particular focus on Afghanistan. Unlike the past, Pakistan and Russia have convergence on the issue of Afghanistan as both sides are keen that the current dispensation in Kabul succeeds.
Moscow and Islamabad are worried that any instability in Afghanistan would give rise to terrorist groups that would pose direct security challenges to both countries.
Meanwhile, on the 15th anniversary of the horrific terrorist attack on the Samjhauta Express that claimed the lives of 68 innocent passengers including 44 Pakistani nationals, the foreign office on Friday summoned the acting Indian envoy.
The Indian Charge d’Affaires in Islamabad was summoned to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and was conveyed Pakistan’s severe disappointment at the Indian government’s callousness towards the plight of the families of the Pakistani nationals, who await justice even after the passage of fifteen years, said the foreign office spokesperson.
The Indian diplomat was further conveyed our alarm that the Hindutva extremism and “Saffron terror” that had motivated the inhuman attack fifteen years ago has intensified manifold under the current regime in India.
The Charge d’Affaires was asked to convey to the Indian government in the strongest terms, Pakistan’s condemnation of the shameless acquittal and exoneration of all accused in a dastardly terrorist attack, including Swami Aseeman, an RSS activist, who publicly confessed to being the mastermind of the heinous attack.
This was just another manifestation of the brazen impunity and full state protection that perpetrators of terrorism enjoy in the BJP-ruled India.
The Charge d’Affaires was also asked to convey to the Indian government, Pakistan’s demand for a fair trial and for bringing the perpetrators and abettors of the Samjhauta Express terrorist attack to justice. The families of the innocent Pakistani nationals, mercilessly killed at the hands of the Hindutva-motivated extremists deserve closure.
Pakistan strongly called upon India to renounce the use of terrorism as an instrument of state policy and faithfully implement its obligations under the international legal regime governing terrorism.