Pak Army Chief Kayani leaves for Russia

Pakistan Army Chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani embarked on a three-day visit to Russia, shortly before Russian Foreign Minister flew into Islamabad for talks with the country`s top leadership.

Islamabad: Pakistan Army Chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani on Wednesday embarked on a three-day visit to Russia, shortly before Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov flew into Islamabad for talks with the country`s top leadership.

Kayani is visiting Russia at the invitation of Nikolai Makarov, the Chief of General Staff of Russian armed forces.

Pakistani officials are projecting these contacts as part of efforts to reset the relationship between Islamabad and Moscow ahead of the pullout of foreign troops from Afghanistan.

Besides meeting his Russian counterpart, Kayani will hold several meetings with the political leadership in Moscow.

He is also expected to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin, officials said.
Chief military spokesman Maj Gen Asim Bajwa told reporters recently that Kayani`s visit would mark the beginning of a new phase in ties between the two countries.
Lavrov will hold formal talks with Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar tomorrow.
He is also expected to call on top Pakistani leaders, including President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf.

The situation in Afghanistan is likely to figure prominently in Lavrov`s meetings.
Though the Foreign Office said Lavrov`s visit to Pakistan was in response to an invitation extended by Khar in February, diplomatic sources said the trip was hurriedly scheduled by Moscow to smooth ruffled feathers following the abrupt cancellation of Putin`s trip to Islamabad.

The cancellation of Putin`s two-day visit, which was to begin on October 2, led to the postponement of a quadrilateral summit of Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan and Afghanistan.

The Foreign Office had intended to create the framework
for a new Pakistan-Russia relationship, with special focus on Afghanistan, during Putin`s visit.

As Pakistan`s relations with the US continue to be strained, Islamabad has been keen to send out a message that it would look for new international partners in Afghanistan in the run-up to the withdrawal of foreign troops by 2014.

However, the diplomatic sources said Russia wants to link any possible reset of its relationship with Pakistan to big ticket economic deals, including participation in the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project.

There has been speculation that Putin`s decision to cancel his visit was linked to Pakistan`s reluctance to award the work of building its section of the Iran-Pakistan pipeline to Russian energy giant Gazprom.

Gazprom reportedly wanted the project to be awarded to it without bidding but Pakistani officials have argued that such a step would violate the rules of the Public Procurement Regulatory Authority.

Foreign Office spokesman Moazzam Khan said Pakistan and Russia have "convergence of views on various important regional and international issues."
He said the two countries also share the "common objective of peace and stability in the broader region."