Russia stands ready to supply special military equipment to Pakistan to strengthen its counter-terrorism capabilities, Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said on Wednesday as Islamabad rolled out the red carpet for the visiting leader.

Lavrov, who travelled to Islamabad from New Delhi, also spoke of Russia’s plans to conduct more military and naval exercises with Pakistan and to further deepen bilateral ties. Lavrov also met Pakistan Army chief Gen Qamar Bajwa and Prime Minister Imran Khan, who raised the Kashmir issue during their talks.

Foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi personally received Lavrov – the first senior Russian leader to travel to Pakistan in almost a decade – at the airport on his arrival on Tuesday, signalling the importance attached to the visit by Islamabad.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi hold bilateral talks at Islamabad (Source: DailySabah)

“We’ve confirmed that we stand ready to strengthen the anti-terrorist potential of Pakistan, including by supplying Pakistan with special military equipment. This serves the interests of all states of the region,” Lavrov said during a joint news conference with Qureshi after their meeting on Wednesday.

“We also agreed that we need to further conduct exercises and drills in the mountains called Druzhba (friendship) and maritime exercises called the Arabian Monsoon,” he added.

The Druzbha exercise between the Pakistani and Russian militaries, which began in 2016, usually features special forces from both sides. A Russian Army contingent visited Pakistan last November for the latest edition of the drill.

Russia had angered India by supplying a limited number of Mi-35M helicopter gunships to Pakistan in 2018. Lavrov’s comments about potential supplies of special military equipment, even to bolster Pakistan’s counter-terrorism capabilities, are unlikely to go down well in New Delhi, which perceives such arms deals as a provocation.

Without directly referring to the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue that includes India, Australia, Japan and the US, Lavrov took a swipe at US-backed strategies that he said were affecting stability in the Asia-Pacific region. Lavrov has been critical of the Indo-Pacific concept, which is the focus of the Quad.

Noting that he and Qureshi had discussed the situation in the Asia-Pacific, Lavrov said: “Here we see uncertain processes that happen because the US promotes divisive strategies that change everything and the stability in the region. We are categorically against new division lines. Instead we promote the preservation of those structures that have been here, including the key role of Asean.”

There was no immediate reaction from Indian officials to Lavrov’s comments.

Both Qureshi and Prime Minister Khan raised the Kashmir issue in their discussions with Lavrov. Qureshi said at the joint news conference that he had told Lavrov about the “fragility of the situation on our border with India” and concerns about the situation in Jammu and Kashmir and human rights issues.

However, Qureshi also acknowledged that tensions with India had reduced after the Indian and Pakistan armies recommitted themselves to the 2003 ceasefire on the Line of Control (LoC) in February.

During his meeting with Lavrov, Khan underlined the importance that Pakistan attaches to relations with Russia as a “key foreign policy priority”, and expressed satisfaction at “steady growth in bilateral ties, including deepening cooperation in trade, energy, security and defence”, according to a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office.

“With reference to the situation in [Jammu and Kashmir], the Prime Minister shared Pakistan’s perspective on issues of peace and security in South Asia, including the need for peaceful resolution of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute,” the statement said.

Lavrov said at the joint news conference that he and Qureshi had touched upon the fact that India and Pakistan have started talks on the normalisation of relations. “We welcome that,” he said.

The reception given to Lavrov in Islamabad was in contrast to his brief visit to New Delhi, where he only held talks with his Indian counterpart S Jaishankar. Lavrov didn’t meet the Indian prime minister – usually a part of any senior Russian leader’s visit to New Delhi.

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