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ISLAMABAD: Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi Friday defended Prime Minister Imran Khan’s trip to Moscow amid Russia-Ukraine crisis as a “right decision,” saying that Russia has shown interest in establishing an LNG [liquefied natural gas] terminal in Gwadar, besides agreeing to fast tracking the North South gas pipeline project.

Briefing journalists about Prime Minister Khan’s two-day visit to Russia from February 23-24, Qureshi said that before departure to Moscow, a high-level contact was also made from the United States. “He [the high-ranking US official] asked an “innocent” question and we responded “politely,” Qureshi said.

However, he did not reveal the “high level” contact when asked, saying: “let it be a senior level [US authority].” He further said that the US side presented their perspective and Pakistan shared about the background of the trip.

At the same time, Qureshi emphasised that Pakistan is not part of any “camp politics” and “we don’t intend to be”. He added that Pakistan did not want to be in a position that implied that it was part of a certain camp.

“In view of past experiences, we have made this major decision not to be part of any camp politics…We will move forward with what is in Pakistan’s interest. This is our focus, this is our priority, and we are moving forward in line with this policy,” he said, adding that today, Pakistan is broadly engaged and has good relations with all major world powers.

To a question whether the Russia’s trip did not create an impression that Pakistan is backing Russia in the ongoing conflict with Ukraine and the West, Qureshi stated: “It depends on how one views things.”

Putin calls on Ukraine army to remove leadership in Kyiv

He added that Pakistan has paid a huge price for being part of camp politics and it would maintain ties with all. He added that he would soon be leaving for Germany, which is a major EU country.

He further explained that there is a “newness” in Pakistan’s foreign policy and it is moving towards a self-respecting and independent foreign policy. “We have shifted our focus from geopolitics to geo-economics in light of past experiences. If we have to move towards geo-economics, a natural conclusion for this [to happen] is to make progress on [developing] regional connectivity [with] Afghanistan and beyond Afghanistan into Central Asian republics,” he added.

If we have to move towards regional connectivity, he added that then Russia has a historical role in this region. “Russia being onboard will fortify our focus towards geo-economics and regional connectivity,” he added.

Responding to the criticism and the impression that the trip was not well timed given the Russia-Ukraine crisis, Qureshi said that he is convinced that it was the right decision, which has increased the diplomatic space of Pakistan.

He said the decision of Moscow visit was taken after thorough deliberations at the PM House with former diplomats, including four former foreign secretaries and four former ambassadors who had served in Moscow, adding that they all were in favour of the trip.

“After the consultations, we reached the conclusion that the solid rationale for consolidation of our bilateral relations with Russia should not be lost,” he said. “We made our assessments, looked at pros and cons of the trip…We had clarity before the departure and we had clarity when we arrived,” Qureshi further asserted.

He further said that the purpose of the trip was to maximise Pakistan’s diplomatic space, which has been achieved. We also looked into that at this important opportunity needs not to be squandered and that we needed to take Russia into confidence on the two important issues – Afghanistan and Kashmir, he added. To the government’s opponents, Qureshi said that when some opposition parties were criticising Imran Khan for the visit, he found him very “convinced”. “Because, Imran Khan does not have bank accounts in the Western countries,” he added.

The foreign minister further stated that the meeting between Prime Minister Khan and President Putin lasted for three and a half hours, in which, views were exchanged on the positive trajectory of the bilateral relation, promoting trade and investment, bilateral cooperation in various areas, regional situations, focusing on Afghanistan and South Asian security situation, particularly, taking the Russian president on the situation in Indian occupied Jammu and Kashmir.

Qureshi urges diplomatic solution of Russia-Ukraine conflict

Sharing further details of the deliberations held with the Russian leadership, he said that energy cooperation was also discussed with them, adding that Pakistan had expressed interest in purchasing gas from Russia through a long-term government-to-government arrangement.

He said it was proposed that the gas pipeline between Russia and Uzbekistan be extended to Pakistan via Afghanistan, which would help meet our future energy requirements.

He said that Russia also expressed interest in establishing of an LNG terminal in Gwadar. He further said that Russian investors have expressed interest to attend the investment conference to be held next month in Islamabad.

He further said that Pakistan’s shift to geo-economics and regional connectivity will get impetus through enhanced relations with Russia. He said Pakistan wants to forge a long-term multidimensional relationship with Russia and cooperation at international fora, particularly at the level of SCO.

About the progress on the building of Pakistan Stream gas pipeline, he said that there was agreement on most matters and there would be discussion on remaining issues next month. “We hope that it will be completed soon,” the foreign minister added.

Asked whether the energy projects would really be materialised given the worst sanctions being imposed by the US, European countries and their allies on Russia, the foreign minister said that Pakistan is looking into and assessing the sanctions of which some have already enforced and the others are in the pipeline.

“We are not oblivious to the sanctions. We are assessing these and we will look into our own interest,” he added.

Asked if Pakistan’s case at the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) also came under discussion, Qureshi said that he took up the matter with his Russian counterpart and appraised him about the engagement of a few countries to politicise Pakistan’s case in the technical forum.

He said that his Russian counterpart praised Pakistan’s steps towards anti-money laundering and combating financing of terrorism and stated that his country looks into the matter on technical grounds. “After my talks with my Russian counterpart, I am convinced that Russia will not be among those countries who are politicizing Pakistan’s case in the FATF,” Qureshi added.

To another question, he said that Pakistan enjoys good military ties both with Ukraine and Russia, adding that Pakistan would continue to do so.

Asked if Prime Minister Khan had made any offer to President Putin to mediate between Russia and Ukraine, he said that the duo shared their perspectives of the matter during the talks. He added that the visit was not planned keeping in view the situation in Ukraine, adding that it was being planned for a long time.

“We presented our stance on the [Ukrainian] issue and heard theirs. The prime minister spoke about the issue at an appropriate time and an appropriate place, stressing that it should be resolved through diplomacy,” he said. He added that Pakistan has called for exercising restraint, as there is still a possibility of resolving the issue through diplomatic efforts.

Qureshi further said that Pakistan’s embassy in Ukraine has been shifted from Kyiv to Ternopil, adding that the government is taking measures to evacuate 3,000 students studying in Ukraine. He said that Ternopil is close to Poland’s border and it will make evacuation easier. He also rejected the reports that a Pakistan student was killed, adding that so far, all Pakistanis are safe and efforts are being made to safely evacuate them.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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