Army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani will travel to Moscow next week, contrary to earlier speculation that his visit might be cancelled after Russian President Vladimir Putin postponed his trip to Islamabad.
The chief military spokesperson confirmed to The Express Tribune on Saturday that Gen Kayani would undertake the ‘historic’ trip to Russia from October 3 to 6.
The director general of the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), Maj Gen Asim Saleem Bajwa, said that it would be the first-ever bilateral visit by any Pakistan army chief to Russia, marking the beginning of a new phase in the otherwise troubled ties between the two countries.
During his three-day stay, Gen Kayani is expected to meet top Russian military and civil leaders to discuss options for expanding military-to-military cooperation between the two countries, according to Gen Bajwa.
Pakistan and Russia remained bitter cold-war rivals in the 1980s when Islamabad joined the Western alliance, led by the United States, to defeat the former Soviet Union in Afghanistan.
However, relations have shown gradual improvement in recent years with the two countries seeking to bury their troubled past.
President Putin was scheduled to visit Islamabad in the first week of October but the trip was put off due to ‘unspecified reasons’.
Pakistan, which had been preparing for the historic trip, was left disappointed at the last-minute change of plans. An official said that by putting off Putin’s maiden trip to Pakistan, Russia might have “inadvertently become the victim of American Great Game in the region”. He also pointed fingers at the Indian lobby, thought to have pressured Moscow into cancelling the trip at the behest of the US.
“Increased cooperation between Pakistan and Russia will certainly provide us more leverage when it comes to our relationship with the Americans,” the official explained. Some reports also indicated that President Putin postponed his visit because of Islamabad’s reluctance to award a lucrative contract for the multibillion-dollar Iran gas pipeline project to Russia’s state-owned Gazprom.
The two sides have been discussing the project for months but the deal is yet to be finalised, as Russia intends to finance the pipeline without entering the competitive international bidding process.
Despite the setback, Foreign Office officials said Pakistan was still hopeful the Russian president would eventually undertake the visit.
They maintained that Gen Kayani’s trip is an indication that efforts are ongoing to open a ‘new chapter’ in ties between the two countries.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 30th, 2012.
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