Islamabad intensifies diplomatic contacts with Moscow

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has intensified diplomatic contacts with Russia amid a volley of hostile statements from Washington as Islamabad aims to look diplomatically stronger with Moscow and Beijing by its side in the year 2018, The Nation has learnt.

Senior officials at the foreign ministry said Pakistan was exploring other options after snubs from the US despite Pakistan’s “flexibility”.

One official said: “Russia is the key goal. They [Russia] are a superpower plus they are inclined towards enhancing the relationship with Pakistan.”

He added: “These weeks, we have been ringing the phones to Moscow much more than routine and have been discussing the ways to multiply cooperation.”

The official said contacts with China and Saudi Arabia were “business as usual”.

“We need to have some powers by our side. The US seems heavily influenced by the Indian propaganda. China is always important but Russia is also a key for the future. We are preparing for the year 2018,” he said.

This week, Washington said it was concerned over Jamaatud Dawa chief Hafiz Mohammed Saeed’s bid to contest elections.

The US has been pressing Pakistan to re-arrest the JuD leader for his alleged role in terrorism. State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said: “We would certainly have concerns about him running for office.”

In May 2008, the US Department of the Treasury had dubbed Saeed a specially designated global terrorist under executive order 13224.

Saeed was also individually designated by the United Nations under the UNSC R1267 in December 2008 following the Mumbai attacks.

Heather Nauert added: “I want to remind folks we have a $10 million reward for the Justice Programme that would reward for information that would bring him to justice. So I want to make that clear so that everybody knows, $10 million out for this guy, and we would certainly have concerns about him running for office.”

Before Nauert’s statement, the US President, Donald Trump, this week unveiled a new national security strategy, and asked Pakistan to take “decisive action” against the terror network.

Trump said the US wanted Pakistan to help Washington fight extremism.

The new strategy says: “No partnership can survive a country’s support for militants and terrorists who target a partner’s own service members and officials.”

In August, Trump had announced his policy for Afghanistan and South Asia and accused Islamabad of harbouring terrorists.

He also urged India to play a “bigger role” in Afghanistan.

“We can no longer be silent about Pakistan’s safe havens for terrorist organisations,” he said, while hinting to cut Pakistan’s financial aid.

Recently, US Defence Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson separately visited Pakistan with the “do more” message.

Another official at the foreign ministry said the response from Russia had been “very positive” and both the countries were optimistic to take the relationship further.

“We will continue high-level contacts in the future. There will be exchanges of visits,” he told The Nation.

This year, Russian President Vladimir Putin had offered to mediate between Islamabad and New Delhi to ease tension in South Asia.

The move was welcomed by Islamabad but India refused to oblige.

Putin had earlier refused to condemn the 2016 Uri attack and China also denied support to India’s bid for the Nuclear Suppliers Group membership.

While China’s response was expected by Pakistan, Russia’s neutrality gave them the boost they wanted as Islamabad took the Kashmir issue to the global powers.

However, Putin signed agreements of cooperation with India in different sectors worth billions of dollars.

India and Russia also reached an understanding to manufacture military copters. Reportedly, India is to buy a ground-to-air targeting technology from Russia as well.

Foreign ministry officials said Pak-Russia relationship was on a positive trajectory.

Both the sides have signed defence agreement, held joint military exercises and Russia is investing $2 billion in South-North gas pipeline project.

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