In an unprecedented exchange between Russia and Pakistan, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov visited Islamabad last week while Pakistan Army Chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kiani flew to Russia for consolidating progress in defense cooperation. Lavrov's unscheduled visit was to reassure Pakistani leader-ship that President Putin remained committed to resetting ties despite cancellation of his visit.
The simultaneous visits took place against the backdrop of last week's cancellation of President Putin's trip to Pakistan to attend the Quadrilateral Summit (Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan and Afghanistan), which was planned in Islamabad from 2-3 October 2012.
The cancellation, apparently, shocked the government which had significantly invested in rebuilding relationship with Russia after decades of mistrust and acrimony.
Mr Lavrov was invited by Foreign Minister Khar earlier this year, but dates for his trip had to be pulled up after Mr Putin opted against traveling to Islamabad.
"They (Russians) must have realized that President Putin's decision would not go well in Islamabad, which has acquired a new found strategic significance in their calculus for the region," the daily Dawn quoted an official as saying. The official added that the mere fact that Mr Lavrov was visiting Pakistan showed the significance Moscow attached to its ties with Pakistan.
Russia and Pakistan have convergence of views on Afghanistan, regional stability and counter-narcotics efforts, the daily Dawn said adding: "Russia additionally sees Pakistan as a country playing an important role in countering terrorism and achievement of its vision of regional connectivity. Accordingly, Russia moved to bolster its economic and security cooperation with the one time South Asian foe, while Pakistan, because of troubled relationship with the US, embraced the rapprochement for diversifying the sources of its military supplies."
Commenting on Lavrov's visit, the daily Nation said: "The dismay that the unexpected cancellation of Russian President Vladimir Putin's visit has caused among Pakistan's political circles and even the general public has been somewhat allayed by the three visits that went ahead as scheduled. First, it was a high-powered delegation that came to Islamabad and signed memorandums of understanding about three important sectors of our economy: expansion and modernization of Pakistan Steel Mills, cooperation in the Railways and in energy."
According to Pakistan Observer, speculation abounds regarding Putin's visit. Section of Pakistan media came out with the story that Russia wanted that its state-controlled Gazprom be given the contract for building Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline without going through the procedure of bidding.
Russia 's deputy minister for energy and representatives of leading energy giant Gazprom had attended the Pak-Russia Inter-Governmental Commission on 10th September. In the meeting, Gazprom representatives had given a presentation on the pipeline and reiterated the interest during a meeting with President Zardari.
Apart from that, Russia is also interested in the Central Asia-South Asia electricity transmission from Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to Afghanistan and Pakistan (CASA-1000), and the construction of rail tracks and motor roads from Tajikistan to Pakistan to create new trade routes in the region.
Under the MoUs, Russia will provide assistance of $300 to $500 million for the modernization and expansion of Pakistan Steel Mills. It will also help in constructing New Jamshoro Power Plant of 500MW capacity. Russia is interested in Tarbela-4, Keyal Khwar and CASA-1000 projects as well. However, there was no progress on the Iran-Pakistan pipeline project during the talks held with a visiting Russian delegation. No firm commitments were given to the Russian delegation that wanted to get the project without bidding. Diplomatic observers believe that Putin was not pleased with Pakistan's less-than-keen response to Russian interest in the IP project.
Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Ashfaq Kayani arrived in Moscow on October 4 and
tomb of an unknown soldier at the Kremlin to lay a floral wreath. Next day he called
on Russian Federation Armed Forces Chief of General Staff (CGS) General Makarov.
According to a statement released by Pakistan military, General Ashfaq Kayani called on Russian Federation Armed Forces Chief of General Staff (CGS) General Makarov in the Defense Ministry and the two military leaders expressed consensus to enhance the cooperation between the armies of the two countries.
General Kayani's visit is poised to carry forward the strengthening of military-to-military relations initiated by Russian Military Chief Col-Gen Alexander Postnikov's visit to Pakistan in May last year. He had proposed the possibility of expanding defense ties by holding joint military exercises, exchanging trainees and trainers and selling and buying weapons.
Likewise, Pakistan's Air Chief Marshal Tahir Rafique Butt visited Moscow in August. His visit has been reported as a significant development towards greater cooperation with Russia in the field of defense, particularly in air defense.