Pak Army chief to visit Russia next week



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.

PTI