New Delhi: As the world watched in shock the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan sat in the Kremlin doing what he does best — raising the issue of Jammu and Kashmir.
On Thursday, in his first-ever summit meeting with President Vladimir Putin, which ran concurrently with the invasion, Khan underscored the “imperative” of a peaceful resolution to the Kashmir issue even as he committed to a “long-term and multidimensional” relationship with Russia.
The Pakistan PM was on a two-day visit (23-24 February) to Russia, accompanied by his cabinet members and senior officials. This was the first official visit by a Pakistan PM to Moscow in 23 years.
The three-hour meeting came while the Kremlin announced a military operation in Ukraine that prompted several countries, especially the US, to impose the strictest of actions on Moscow that are expected to adversely impact the Russian economy.
A press statement by the Pakistani government after the meeting noted the main talking points, including the Kashmir issue and bilateral ties. It also expressed regret over the Ukraine conflict.
“On the situation in South Asia, the Prime Minister highlighted the serious human rights situation in IIOJK (Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir) and underscored the imperative of peaceful resolution of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute,” said the statement.
This came just weeks after the Russian Embassy in India said that Moscow would only follow Lahore and Simla agreements on the Kashmir dispute, underlining that it’s a bilateral issue between Pakistan and India.
The embassy’s comments came in the wake of a row around a documentary by Russia-backed Redfish Media — affiliated to the Russian media company RT — that likened Kashmir with that of Palestine. The release of the documentary has since been postponed.
Earlier, Khan had promised to be the “brand ambassador” of Kashmir on international forums.
“The Prime Minister also highlighted the developments detrimental to regional peace and stability and stressed the need for measures that would help keep the regional balance,” the Pakistani statement said.
On its part, Moscow issued a brief two-line statement: “The leaders of the two countries discussed the main aspects of bilateral cooperation and exchanged views on current regional topics, including developments in South Asia. Earlier in the day, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan attended a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier by the Kremlin wall.”
On bilateral ties
While PM Khan has been awaiting a phone call from US President Joe Biden ever since the latter came to power in 2022, this trip to Russia will strengthen ties between Islamabad and Moscow under Beijing’s tight watch.
According to Islamabad’s statement: “Recalling the telephone conversations during the recent months between the two leaders, the Prime Minister expressed confidence that the positive trajectory of bilateral relations will continue to move forward in the future… The Prime Minister underscored Pakistan’s commitment to forge a long-term, multidimensional relationship with Russia.”
Khan told Putin that “trust and cordiality marking the relationship would translate into further deepening and broadening of mutual cooperation in diverse fields”.
He also discussed the “importance of Pakistan-Stream Gas Pipeline as a flagship economic project between Pakistan and Russia and also discussed cooperation on prospective energy-related projects”.
Both sides also spoke about Afghanistan during the meeting. Khan told Putin that he would continue to work with the international community for a “stable, peaceful and connected Afghanistan”.
Khan ‘regretted’ Ukraine attack
Khan “regretted” the latest situation between Russia and Ukraine and said that Pakistan had “hoped diplomacy could avert a military conflict”, the statement said.
“The Prime Minister stressed that conflict was not in anyone’s interest, and that the developing countries were always hit the hardest economically in case of conflict. He underlined Pakistan’s belief that disputes should be resolved through dialogue and diplomacy,” it said.
“Expressing concerns on rising trends of extremism and Islamophobia in the world, the Prime Minister emphasized the need for interfaith harmony and coexistence. Appreciating President Putin’s understanding of the respect and sensitivities that the Muslims attach to the Holy Prophet (PBUH), the Prime Minister said that inter-faith harmony and respect for all religions was imperative for peace and harmony within and among the societies,” it added.