ISLAMABAD - Pakistan neither backs the United States nor Russia over the Syrian conflict to remain a ‘safe neutral’ amid the new phase of US-Russia tension. 

Senior officials at the foreign ministry told The Nation that Pakistan was reluctant to take sides as Islamabad was itself faced with diplomatic challenges.

One official said: “We want a peaceful solution to the Syrian issue but at this point, we cannot take sides. There is a general feeling (in Pakistan) that the US is crossing limits but we also want to remain within our limits. We want to remain safe neutral.”

He said: “We, of course, cannot afford to lose the US or Russia. China has supported Russia and deep inside we are with them (Russia and China).”

Russian President Vladimir Putin warned that further Western attacks on Syria would bring chaos to world affairs, as Washington prepared to increase pressure on Russia with new economic sanctions.

Speaking to his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani on the telephone, the Russian president said that the Western strikes had damaged the chances of achieving a political resolution in the seven-year Syria conflict.

“Vladimir Putin, in particular, stressed that if such actions committed in violation of the UN Charter continue, then it will inevitably lead to chaos in international relations,” a Kremlin statement said.

The US ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley said the US would announce new economic sanctions aimed at companies “that were dealing with equipment” related to Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s alleged chemical weapons use.

On April 14, the United States, France and Britain launched 105 missiles targetting the three alleged chemical weapons facilities in Syria in retaliation for a suspected poison gas attack in Douma on April 7.

Later, Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry urged “all sides to refrain from actions inconsistent with the United Nations Charter” following airstrikes carried out by the US, UK and France against the Syrian regime.

Islamabad has been observing developments in Syria “with grave concerns,” the ministry said. Pakistan condemns the “use of chemical weapons,” Foreign Office spokesperson Dr Mohammed Faisal had said.

He had urged “all parties to strive for an agreement within the OPCW (Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons)” and allow it to investigate the suspected chemical attack on the town of Douma that led to the airstrikes. “At this time, our thoughts are with the people of Syria” suffering from “turmoil,” he said.

Faisal said Pakistan supported all efforts employed at facilitating a peaceful Syrian-led and inclusive solution that meets the aspirations of the Syrian people through a comprehensive political dialogue.

Meanwhile, a foreign ministry statement said that Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi will lead the Pakistan delegation to the 25th Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in London from April 18 to April 20. The main theme of the conference is “Towards A Common Future”.

Pakistan is one of the founding members of the organization. The current membership of the Commonwealth consists of 53 member states reflecting the diversity of all continents of the world.

Commonwealth provides a market of over 2.2 billion people, spread across all six continents, covering nearly a quarter of the world’s land mass and a combined gross domestic product of £ 6.9 trillion.

“Participation in CHOGM-2018 would provide an opportunity to highlight the advances made by Pakistan including its transition to a modern and dynamic emerging market, which is an attractive destination for business, investment and trade,” said the foreign ministry statement.

During his stay in London, the prime minister will call on Queen Elizabeth II, the Prince of Wales and meet the British leadership. It will also provide an opportunity to meet other Commonwealth leaders and exchange views on matters of mutual interest.

The prime minister will participate actively in all executive and retreat sessions as well as a number of events being held on the sidelines of the CHOGM, it added.