Trade between Russia and Pakistan has likely taken a dive due to the coronavirus outbreak, but Islamabad remains determined to boost it after the crisis is over, Pakistani Ambassador to Russia Shafqat Ali Khan said in an interview.

"Of course, the COVID is going to impact the global trade and the bilateral trade [between Pakistan and Russia] also, but so far, we are in the process of assessing the situation", Khan said.

The diplomat, however, refrained from giving exact figures.

"The important thing is that there is a lot of seriousness on the two sides to promote trade. So far, the volume is not commensurable with this true potential, but we are working on it and as soon as these extraordinary challenges posed by COVID subside we have a plan of ensuring greater interaction between businessmen. We think there is some there are some low-hanging fruits for both countries to achieve by ramping up our bilateral trade", Khan said.

According to the ambassador, the Pakistani and Russian governments can facilitate trade through addressing legal issues, simplifying procedures and encouraging businesses in both countries.

"We think that Russian market offers a lot of opportunities to Pakistani business and, similarly, Pakistan is a huge market and we would continue to work with the attracting more Russian businessmen and investors to visit Pakistan and explore our market", he added.

He said that the embassy also stood ready to assist in boosting business ties through organising visits, seminars, and exhibitions once the COVID-19 crisis settles.

"It's self-evident from our policies and our statements that for Pakistan Russia remains a key priority in our foreign policy, and we take great pleasure and we are very glad that in the past two decades the two countries' bilateral relations have made enormous progress. We have made this really tremendous progress. A lot of credit goes of course to the Russian side and particularly President [Vladimir] Putin, his personal interest in this bilateral relationship", Khan said.

The Pakistani diplomat noted that the two countries had "all-encompassing dialogue" at various levels.

"The relationship is not unidirectional or unidimensional, it's multi-dimensional, and that is what we want to achieve to strengthen this relationship … This relationship, of course, serves the national interests of both countries, Pakistan and the Russian Federation, but it also contributes to regional stability and it also contributes to global stability", Khan said.

The Pakistani diplomat asserted that Russia remained "a pillar of global stability" amid a quickly changing global situation.

"We admire Russia's policies in terms of the way it is contributing to global stability and, similarly, [stability] in our region, which remains very volatile. We look to Russia to continue to play a stabilising role", Khan said.

The ambassador also expressed determination to continue work on improving people-to-people contacts between Pakistan and Russia, including through parliamentary exchanges and student programs.

Khan was appointed ambassador to Russia in March 2020. Prior to that, he headed Pakistan's diplomatic mission to Poland.

Moscow Notified Islamabad of SCO Summit's Delay Until Fall

Pakistani Ambassador to Russia Shafqat Ali Khan further elaborated that Moscow has notified Islamabad that the summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), initially scheduled for late July, has been postponed until autumn, but once the summit takes place there certainly will be a bilateral meeting between Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"We have been in close contact with the Russian side. We understand this summit was earlier scheduled to be held in July, but because of the COVID situation, the summit has been postponed. We understand that the fresh dates are going to be, I think, somewhere in the fall, but the dates are going to be shared with us in due course", Khan said.

"Whenever the summit takes place, of course, there will be a meeting [between the two leaders]", the ambassador added.

Even though there are currently no plans for a phone call between the leaders, it would not be problematic to arrange one on a short notice thanks to good relations between the two nations, the Pakistani diplomat noted. He also expressed the hope for the SCO summit's success.

"Russia is a founding member, it's one of the countries which established this organisation, so we are working with the Russian government and we look forward to a very positive and successful summit", Khan said.

While the bringing together nations accounting nearly for one-fourth of the global population, the SCO also covers vast territories in Eurasia contributing to regional cooperation not only in economy, but also peace, security and response to common threats, the Pakistani diplomat underlined. He added that response to the COVID-19 pandemic could be one more area for cooperation between the SCO member states.

"We remain grateful to Russia for helping us become a member and it is because of the Russian assistance, corporation and support. We were very pleased. It was a major milestone in our foreign policy, when we became a full member of SCO in 2017", Khan said.

© SPUTNIK / BOLAT SHAIKHINOV

SCO Summit, Scheduled for 22-23 July in St. Petersburg, Postponed, Source Says

The SCO summit was initially planned to be held on 22-23 July 2020 in St. Petersburg. The Kremlin announced that the event was postponed, and new dates will be determined taking into consideration the epidemiological situation development. 

The SCO is an international association founded in 2001 by the leaders of China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. At the SCO summit in Astana on 9 June 2017, the leaders of the SCO member states signed a decision on admission of India and Pakistan to the organisation.

Pakistan Expects CPEC to Facilitate Eurasian Connectivity, Trade

According to the diplomat, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is a "flagship bilateral cooperation project" between Islamabad and Beijing.

"But there's another dimension to this — we look at the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor as a part of the larger project of Eurasian connectivity, which is bringing all countries of Eurasia together through a network of trade pacts, trade arrangements, railway lines, road networks, flights, etc. We feel that the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, once it is completed, will [enable] the East-West connectivity between one end of Eurasia to the other — from, let's say, Vladivostok all the way to Hamburg in Germany", Khan said.

The Pakistani ambassador noted that the project offered great opportunities for the development of economic and trade relations between the regional countries.

"As soon as these East-West connections improve and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is developed successfully, we will be able to trade with Central Asia and Russia through overland roots also", Khan said.

The CPEC is a $46 billion-worth infrastructure project funded by China that aims to increase the region’s integrity by connecting the Pakistani port city of Gwadar and China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region via transportation routes.

Pakistan Did Not Ask Russia for Aid But Technical Talks on Ventilators Ongoing

Islamabad has not officially requested Russia's assistance in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic but some Pakistani companies are engaged in technical talks with Russian firms regarding the possible supply of ventilators, Pakistani Ambassador to Russia Shafqat Ali Khan said in an interview.

"So far, we have not approached the Russian government for any particular assistance", Khan said.

Meanwhile, the diplomat noted that some Pakistani and Russian companies were in technical discussion regarding the possible procurement of ventilators for COVID-19 patients.

"Some of our companies were in contact with the Russian companies for procurement of ventilators. If there is a requirement, the embassy will step in there, but so far there are some technical discussion", Khan stated.

The ambassador expressed confidence that Russia would provide any COVID-related assistance if Islamabad requested such, praising the friendly relations between the countries.

"Having said that, I can tell you on behalf of the government of Pakistan that if the government of Pakistan needs any assistance, we are sure Russia will be there for us. Russia has been helping so many countries. The Russian government has provided assistance from Italy and to even the US. We are a friend of Russia and we know if we need something the Russian government and the Russian people will help us", the ambassador said.

Khan also noted that Pakistan was still thankful for Russia's previous assistance to the South Asian nation during the 2005 earthquake and the 2010 floods.

To date, Pakistan has reported more than 76,000 cases of COVID-19 and 1,621 deaths.

Pakistan Eagerly Awaits Intra-Afghan Dialogue, Thankful for Russia's Role

Shafqat Ali Khan continued by saying that Pakistan is looking forward to the intra-Afghan dialogue following recent positive developments.

"Now the next step, which we are eagerly awaiting, is the intra-Afghan dialogue. That is something we all hope for and encourage ... On this issue also we have good communication with the Russian government and we respect their position, the way Russia is contributing to settling regional disputes in so many different parts of the world. We are very satisfied with and really applaud Russia's positive role in this domain", Khan said.

Russia has hosted a series of talks between Taliban and Afghan diplomatic representatives in Moscow over recent years.

According to the diplomat, both Pakistan and Russia share an interest in an Afghan-owned and Afghan-led peace process and wanted to see peaceful and stable Afghanistan.

"From specifically Pakistan's perspective, I want to emphasize one point that no country has suffered more because of the turbulence in Afghanistan than Pakistan, frankly. And no countries going to gain more than Pakistan from a settlement in Afghanistan", the ambassador said.

Pakistan's northern neighbour Afghanistan has seen decades of turmoil at the hands of the Taliban* insurgency against the US-backed Kabul government and the US-led foreign forces in the country. Pakistan is, on par with Iran, the main host for Afghan refugees and its border regions have suffered from spillovers of violence.

On 29 February, the United States and the Taliban signed a peace agreement following months of talks. Its main premises are the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan and the launch of intra-Afghan peace talks, subject to a mutual exchange of prisoners. In mid-May, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and his longtime rival, Abdullah Abdullah, inked a power-sharing deal.