Islamabad: Pakistan Army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani is scheduled to visit Russia next week to give a push to Islamabad`s efforts to improve relations with Moscow ahead of the pull out of foreign troops from Afghanistan.
Kayani during his October 3-6 visit will hold talks with Russia`s top military leadership and is expected to meet some political leaders, defence sources said today. It is expected that he will also meet President Vladimir Putin, who recently called off a scheduled visit to Pakistan.
This will be the Pakistan Army chief`s first visit to Russia since 2009, when he had made a trip at the invitation of his counterpart.
Sources said Kayani`s previous visit had helped prepare the grounds for a meeting between President Asif Ali Zardari and then President Dmitry Medvedev in 2010.
Col Gen Alexander Postnikov, Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Ground Forces, visited Pakistan in May last year. This was the first visit by a senior Russian military commander to Pakistan in many years.
The defence sources said Pakistan is keen to seek Russia`s cooperation to upgrade some of its military hardware, including Mi-17 helicopters and T-80UD tanks. Pakistan also wants to exchange military-to-military exchanges with Russia, they said.
The cancellation of Putin?s two-day visit, which was scheduled to begin on October 2, led to the postponement of a quadrilateral summit of Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan and Afghanistan.
Pakistan had been projecting Putin`s visit as an opportunity to reset bilateral ties, which have been strained since the days of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.
In a letter sent to President Zardari, Putin expressed his eagerness to "jointly enhance our efforts to further develop Russian-Pakistani ties and advance mutually beneficial trade and economic projects", the statement said.
There has been speculation that Putin`s decision to cancel his visit could be linked to Pakistan`s reluctance to award the work of building its section of the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline to Russian energy giant Gazprom.
Gazprom had wanted the project to be awarded to it without bidding, something that Pakistan is reluctant to do. Russia had made a proposal in this regard when Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar visited Russia earlier this year. Pakistani officials have said such a step would violate the rules of the Public Procurement Regulatory Authority.