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Friday, February 3, 2023

No meeting between Pak, Russia FMs at SCO raises eyebrows

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Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari on Friday held bilateral meetings with foreign ministers of all member states of Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in Tashkent, except his Indian and Russian counterparts, Express Tribune reported on Saturday.

There was no meeting on the cards with India’s EAM S Jaishanker but no bilateral meeting with Russia’s Sergei Lavrov has raised eyebrows back home as talks between Pakistan and Russian diplomats on the sidelines of such regional forums were a routine thing in the past.

This after the Foreign Office had earlier announced that Foreign Minister Bilawal would be holding bilateral meetings with foreign ministers of China, Russia and other SCO members, except India. But there was no meeting between Bilawal and Lavrov though the former met foreign ministers of all other member states.

Sources said that a meeting between Pakistani and Russian foreign ministers was tentatively scheduled provided delay in the departure of Lavrov from Tashkent.

However, sources insisted that Bilawal and Lavrov did interact informally over dinner for SCO foreign ministers but because of time constraints no bilateral meeting could be scheduled.

They insisted that there was no need to read much into it, but given the recent developments and Russia being at the centre of domestic political situation in Pakistan, both sides skipping a bilateral meeting cannot be ignored altogether.

Pakistan’s relationship with Russia was at the heart of controversy when former prime minister Imran Khan was removed from power through a vote of no confidence earlier this year.

Khan has maintained that he was removed from power as a result of a US conspiracy since he wanted to pursue an independent foreign policy, particularly one that deepens ties with Russia.

The basis of his claims was a classified diplomatic cable that detailed a meeting between the Pakistani ambassador in Washington and a senior Biden administration official in March.

Pakistan’s then Ambassador Asad Majeed wrote back to the Foreign Office, conveying the Biden administration’s serious reservations over Imran Khan’s visit to Moscow.

As per the diplomatic cable, US Under-secretary of State and South Asia Donald Lu informed the Pakistani envoy that the Biden administration was not happy with Imran’s decision to visit Moscow at a time when President Vladimir Putin was preparing for an invasion of Ukraine.

He then went on to say that Pakistan would have to face the dire consequences if a vote of no confidence against Imran did not succeed.

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