It was -8 degrees Celsius in Moscow on Tuesday but a telephone call from Islamabad to the Kremlin brought about some warmth in the otherwise frosty Pakistan-Russia relationship.
The newly-elected Russian president, Vladimir Putin, accepted an invitation extended by Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani to travel to Islamabad in September this year, said an official announcement. This will be the first-ever trip to Islamabad by any Russian head of state.
According to the statement, Premier Gilani telephoned Putin to congratulate him on his success in the presidential elections, and formally invited him to an official trip to Pakistan.
The dates of the visit will be decided by the two foreign ministers soon, the statement added.
Apart from holding bilateral talks with the country’s leadership, the Russian leader will also attend a quadrilateral summit scheduled for later this year, a senior foreign ministry official told The Express Tribune.
The summit would be attended by leaders of Pakistan, Russia, Afghanistan and Tajikistan, and focus on regional issues with particular emphasis on the Afghan endgame, the official added.
The last such meeting was held in the Tajik capital Dushanbe in 2011 where the four nations urged the US-led Nato forces to step up the training of local security forces before pulling out of Afghanistan.
Russia, which suffered a humiliating defeat in Afghanistan in the 1980s, has voiced concerns on the future of the country once the US-led coalition withdraws its troops.
Official sources say that Russia has apprehensions that Afghanistan may slip into a civil war again due to lack of a clear roadmap for future political dispensation.
Meanwhile, the maiden visit by a Russian head of state to Pakistan reflects the recent improvement in bilateral relations between former cold-war rivals.
In May last year, President Asif Ali Zardari undertook a historic visit to Moscow, the first official trip by any head of state from Pakistan in 37 years.
The shift is purportedly part of Pakistan’s realignment in the region in the wake of its fragile ties with the US.
Pakistan is currently reevaluating its cooperation with the US based on recommendations furnished by an all-party bicameral parliamentary panel. The foreign policy review includes recommendations that Pakistan re-evaluate its relationship with Russia.
On its part, Russia, in an unprecedented move, denounced last year’s Nato cross border raid on Pakistani check posts and believed to have backed Islamabad’s move to shut down supplies for western forces stationed in Afghanistan.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 7th, 2012.