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 […] its an important opportunity that should not be squandered.”
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 conversation on phone with Pakistan’s ambassador to Ukraine before the press conference, adding
He said clear directives had been 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 the all the help they need.”