File photo: Pakistan PM Imran Khan (left) and Russian President Vladimir Putin (right). Photograph:( WION Web Team )
The visit, which is being looked at as a game changer owing to regional geo-strategic realignments, has greater optical significance
Imran Khan will be the first Pakistani prime minister in 23 years to embark on a bilateral visit to Russia, diplomatic sources in Pakistan have revealed. Khan's visit to Russia this month is taking place on the invitation of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The visit, which is being looked at as a game changer owing to regional geo-strategic realignments, has greater optical significance. On the agenda of the visit would be bilateral ties, Afghanistan situation, including talks of defence cooperation and commitments to take forward the north-south gas pipeline of length of over 1100 kilometers. Setting up of the pipeline is aimed at facilitating transfer of imported gas from the port city of Karachi to the load center in Pakistani Punjab province.
The visit, which will be held in the second half of February 2022, will be closely watched out by other countries in the region. US President Joe Biden has not held a telephonic discussion with Pakistan PM Imran Khan after the former assumed office. In this light, Imran Khan's Russia visit will be looked at in a possible context of regional re-alignment on the part of the Pakistani government.
Last time an elected Pakistani prime minister visited Russia on a bilateral visit was in March 1999 during the tenure of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. In 2003, Pakistani military dictator Pervez Musharraf had visited Russia. In 2011, then Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari paid a visit to Russia.
In 2017, Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan visited Sochi in Russia to attend a multilateral conference, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Summit (SCO). The last formal bilateral meeting between a Pakistani prime minister and Russian president was held between former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the SCO summit in Astana, Kazakhstan in June 2017.
Since then, there have been multiple informal pull-aside meetings between Russian president and Pakistani prime minister at different forums. The two were scheduled to meet on the sidelines of the SCO summit last year in Tajikistan but the meeting was called off due to Covid-19 outbreak in President Putin’s inner circle.
The two have exchanged multiple telephone calls in recent times as well. The Pakistani prime minister will be accompanied by a high-level delegation of senior ministers from his cabinet. Sources say that details of this visit will be released in due course of time by the Pakistani Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Relations between Pakistan and Russia in the past had not been at an ideal level following the country’s involvement in collapse of the USSR. However, a new dimension of the relationship was seen when the former Pakistani Army chief General Raheel Sharif visited Russia in 2015 and laid another foundation of military diplomacy that eventually lead to be being converted in exchanges of formal diplomatic contacts and high-level visits, including one by the Pakistani National Security Advisor Moeed Yusuf in December last year. The Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov too visited Pakistan in April 2021.