Pakistan pledges neutrality in Ukraine crisis, insists ties with US on track


Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi has dismissed suggestions that his country’s “neutral” stance in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict is straining Islamabad’s relations with the United States or the West in general, in an interview given to VOA on Sunday.

The nuclear-armed South Asian Muslim country has resisted Western pressure to condemn Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine, instead advocating dialogue and diplomacy to end the crisis.

Pakistan has argued that it needs to step back from global bloc politics to improve its relations with all countries, including Russia, and to address its own domestic economic challenges.

“We don’t want to be part of any side. We paid the price for being in camps. This is why we are moving very cautiously. We don’t want to compromise our neutrality, and that’s why we abstained,” Qureshi told VOA.

“The only sensible way is a diplomatic solution,” Qureshi stressed, while speaking by phone from the southern province of Sindh, where he was attending a political rally of his ruling Pakistan Tehrik-e Insaaf party.

Pakistan, a key non-NATO ally of Washington, abstained last week from voting on both a UN Security Council resolution ‘deploring’ Russia’s aggression against its neighbor and on a General Assembly vote condemning the invasion. The same was true for 34 other nations, including India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

Western diplomatic missions in Pakistan on the eve of the General Assembly vote had collectively urged the host country to denounce Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and support international calls for Moscow to immediately end the war.

Qureshi said claims that his country has placed itself on the “Russian side” were “false” and “misinterpreted” from Islamabad’s declared neutrality in relation to the Ukraine crisis.

“I think our relationship with the United States is good. We view the United States as an important partner and seek continued support from the United States,” he noted.

“I requested a call with [U.S.] Secretary [of State Antony] Blinken and I learned that he was traveling for the next seven days. But I would be more than happy to explain Pakistan’s point of view [on Ukraine] for him,” Qureshi added.

He also contradicted reports that diplomatic tensions between Pakistan and Washington increased following Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit to Russian President Vladimir Putin last month. Khan was already in Moscow when Putin ordered his army to attack Ukraine. But the trip would not have gone well in Washington.

“We have briefed the Pakistani government on the impact that Russia’s unprovoked war against Ukraine could have on regional and global security,” a State Department spokesman said Saturday, quoted in Pakistani English. . Dawn newspaper.

Qureshi-Lavrov interview

Qureshi said he spoke to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov by phone on Saturday and “highlighted” Islamabad’s “concern over the latest situation in Ukraine”. He told VOA that Lavrov had let him know that Moscow was “not opposed to the idea of ​​negotiations” with Kyiv “to reach some sort of conclusion.”

Pakistan’s foreign minister said his Russian counterpart had “noted” that a “positive outcome” of two rounds of talks with Ukrainian officials was the agreement on the creation of a “humanitarian corridor” to allow residents of two Ukrainian towns surrounded by Russian forces to evacuate. Qureshi and Lavrov spoke before Russian forces attacked the evacuation corridors.

“We are ready for the third round of talks. Our people are there. In fact, we are waiting for the Ukrainian representatives to come and start the talks,” Qureshi told him, quoting Lavrov.

Khan defended his trip to Moscow, the first by a Pakistani prime minister in 23 years, saying his country’s economic interests compelled him to do so.

The Pakistani leader avoided criticizing Putin in a statement issued after his meeting with the Russian president. The statement said Khan “regretted the latest situation between Russia and Ukraine and that Pakistan had hoped that diplomacy could avert a military conflict”.

Islamabad sided with Washington during the Cold War and was instrumental in arming and training the US-funded Afghan resistance in the 1980s against the Soviet occupation of neighboring Afghanistan which lasted a decade.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, left, meets Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow in February. (Courtesy of Pakistan Foreign Minister’s Office)

However, Pakistan’s traditionally difficult relationship with the United States has recently come under increased pressure due to allegations that covert support from the Pakistani military has helped the Taliban maintain their insurgency against international-led forces. by the United States in neighboring Afghanistan for 20 years and to regain power last August. Pakistan denies these allegations.

Russia and Pakistan, once bitter adversaries, have moved in recent years to reestablish ties, which analysts say is the result of the South Asian country’s frosty relationship with the United States.

“A lesser leader would have thought to abandon the visit and plunge back into a past of adversity,” wrote Raoof Hasan, special assistant to Khan on Information, in an article published Friday about the prime minister’s historic visit to Moscow.

“Instead of backing down, Prime Minister Khan took the opportunity to reiterate his deep belief in the peaceful resolution of disputes,” Hasan said in the commentary posted by The newsa local newspaper.

For their part, US officials maintain that they regard their “partnership with a prosperous and democratic Pakistan as essential” to Washington’s interests. They say the United States is Pakistan’s biggest trading partner and they see the South Asian nation as “an important regional country”.

US officials recognize that Pakistan continues to play a crucial role in assisting international efforts to evacuate Afghans in danger since the Taliban returned to power in Afghanistan. A dialogue between Washington and Islamabad is also underway on how to jointly counter terrorist threats emanating from Afghan soil.

Pakistani officials said Khan was preparing for ‘important visits’ to Western countries after hosting a meeting of foreign ministers from the 57 Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) countries in Islamabad later this month -this. But they have yet to release more details of the planned visits.

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