ISLAMABAD: Russia has sent out a clear but deliberately muted diplomatic signal that it is rankled by Pakistan’s refusal to provide consular access to a high-profile al Qaeda activist who was sentenced to death by a military tribunal in 2005.
Moscow quietly cancelled the scheduled visit of a delegation to Islamabad last week after Pakistan rejected a request for access to Akhlaq Ahmed Akhlas, a Russian national who was convicted for his role in an assassination attempt on the then president, General Pervez Musharraf, in December 25, 2003.
This is the second time in five years that Islamabad has turned down such a request by the Russian embassy, a diplomatic source told The Express Tribune.
The Russian embassy in Islamabad had made a request to meet Akhlas Ahmed Akhlaq early this month, the source said.
Akhlas and the others convicted in the case have appealed against their sentences. Their appeal is pending in court.
In 2005, the Foreign Office rebuffed a similar request by the Russian mission. The delegation from the Russian ministry of foreign affairs was scheduled to attend the “fifth round of bilateral consultation on consular matters” in Islamabad last week. Moscow did not explain the reason for their absence. Nor did it inform the Foreign Office whose staff were waiting for them.
“The delegation did not take the flight for Islamabad from Moscow,” was how Russian embassy staff described the team’s absence when contacted by phone.
Russian officials who met Akhlas’s mother in Volgograd quoted her in the media as saying that her son had left Russia in 2001 and had not been heard of since.
For its part, the Foreign Office could not prove conclusively whether the abrupt and one-sided cancellation was made in reaction to Pakistan’s rejection or it was due to some other reason.
Earlier, while refusing the meeting Russian diplomats were told that Akhlas had been arrested under the anti-terrorism law that forbids diplomatic right of access to the arrested or convicted persons.
In their desperation to gain access to the convict, Russian diplomats approached the National Crisis Management Cell (NCMC) in the interior ministry. After being rejected by the NCMC the Russians went to the ministry of foreign affairs where they met the same treatment.
Akhlas was one of the five men, including a soldier, who were sentenced to death by a military tribunal for their involvement in al Qaeda inspired attempt on the life of General Musharraf.
Three persons convicted of involvement in the plot were awarded jail terms.
A low-ranking serviceman was executed after the judgment while Akhlas and three civilians challenged the sentence in Lahore High Court where their petition is still undecided.
The attacks were planned by Abu Faraj al Liby, said to be al Qaeda’s third-ranking leader who was arrested from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa in 2005.
In their petition the four men argued that being civilians they could not be tried by a military court under the Pakistan Army Act.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 29th, 2010.