By: Chandrashekar Bhat
PRIME minister Imran Khan will travel to Russia on Wednesday (23) on a two-day visit – the first by a Pakistan premier in more than two decades.
Khan will hold talks with Russian president Vladimir Putin and review the bilateral ties including energy cooperation besides exchanging views on major regional and international issues.
Pakistan’s foreign office in Islamabad said in a statement on Monday (21) that they would also discuss “Islamophobia and the situation in Afghanistan.”
Khan’s visit to Russia comes weeks after he visited China where he attended the opening ceremony of the Beijing Winter Olympics and held talks with top Chinese leadership including president Xi Jinping.
Putin also attended the event, boycotted by the US, the European Union and several western countries.
Khan’s visit to Moscow, amid heightened Russia-Ukraine tensions, is believed to be a clear signal to the West, especially after he said no to Washington on giving military bases in Pakistan following American withdrawal from Afghanistan.
He has also not received a phone call from US president Joe Biden since he assumed his office in the White House.
Pakistan and Russia enjoy friendly relations marked by mutual respect, trust and convergence of views on a range of international and regional issues, the foreign office said.
Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Sunday (20) confirmed that preparations for Khan’s visit were underway, the state-run TASS news agency reported.
Progress is also expected on the Pakistan Stream Gas Pipeline project that a Russian company would undertake in Pakistan, laying a pipeline from Karachi to Kasur near the Indian border.
A Russian delegation was in Pakistan recently to negotiate toll-free proceedings and tax exemptions in connection with the project.
Khan will become the first Pakistan premier to visit Russia in 23 years after former premier Nawaz Sharif travelled to Moscow in 1999.
Though former presidents General Pervez Musharraf, Asif Ali Zardari and former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi visited Russia, none of them was an official trip.
Pakistan’s ties with Russia have moved past the bitter Cold War hostilities in recent years and the chill in the relations between Islamabad and Washington has further pushed the country towards Russia and China.
In April last year, Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov visited Islamabad after a gap of almost nine years. During the visit, he conveyed a message to Pakistan leadership that Moscow was willing to extend all possible help to Islamabad.
The two countries are not just exploring options to deepen economic ties, but Russia is also keen to sell arms to Pakistan, something it avoided in the past because of India’s opposition.
The two countries have already been holding regular joint military exercises since 2016 in another sign of deepening ties between Moscow and Islamabad.
Besides, the two countries also share the same view on key regional and international issues including Afghanistan.