The Russian President has pulled out of a scheduled visit to Pakistan, just days before he was expected in Islamabad. As a result the Quadrilateral Summit to be attended by delegations from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan, and hosted in the capital, has also had to be put off. The move marks a setback to Pakistan, which for the last four years has been trying to carve out a deeper relationship with Russia and which has seen the President make numerous trips to Moscow. The disappointment over President Putin’s cancelled visit will also be due to the cancellation of the summit, which was expected to yield positive results in its effort to encourage a broad based settlement in Afghanistan, after the withdrawal of Nato troops.

President Putin’s regret was conveyed in a letter to his Pakistani counterpart, through the Foreign Office, which released only part of the said document; giving rise to speculation that other portions of the communiqué may not have been couched in diplomatic enough language to offset the impression of a brush-off. What was released made clear that some clear reasons prompted President Putin’s change of schedule. The sluggishness of the Pakistani side in facilitating the Russian offer of helping build the Pakistan-Iran gas pipeline, not enough tangible economic process, despite multiple memorandums and agreements and lastly perhaps discouragement from our Eastern neighbour, who itself enjoys long-established and friendly relations with Russia, already. Developing and strengthening relations with the Central Asian Republics and Russia has been one of the clear interests of President Zardari in the last four years. Seen on a map, his visits and tours to these areas verify the interest. President Putin’s visit was being anticipated as a win for the Pakistani Foreign Office and perhaps a tentative step forward for a better image for Pakistan’s engagement on the world stage.

There is no doubt that the cancellation of the trip has been a disappointment, and where the credit for it happening would have fallen to the FO, its cancellation does too. Pakistan, which has been a US ally since its independence, when its first Prime Minister, Liaquat Ali Khan, chose to visit the USA instead of the USSR, despite the latter issuing an invitation first, now does not enjoy the same trusting relationship with the US as it once did. Thus, in pursuit of a more balanced foreign policy and seeing the logical regional interests of Russia in post-war Afghanistan, Russia and Pakistan seemed naturally destined to increase cooperation. One hopes that the cancellation was temporary and Pakistan will not have to wait long to welcome a head of state from Russia for the first time to Islamabad.