The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sinha to tail Pervez to Russia

New Delhi, Jan. 25: Foreign minister Yashwant Sinha will go to Moscow next month, within a fortnight of Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf’s visit, to ensure that Islamabad does not sour Delhi’s relation with “traditional ally” Russia.

Musharraf’s three-day state visit — his first to Russia — begins on February 4. During his stay, Musharraf is scheduled to have wide-ranging discussions with President Vladimir Putin and other senior Russian leaders on a number of issues.

Sinha’s visit to Moscow is scheduled for February 19 and 20. The foreign minister, who is going there on an invitation from his Russian counterpart Igor Ivanov, will also meet Putin and other senior members of the Russian government.

South Block officials insist there is no connection between the two visits. “Each one of them were planned independently and the foreign minister’s visit had been pending since Ivanov extended the invitation to him some time ago,” a senior foreign ministry official said.

They tried to put up a brave front on Musharraf’s visit by arguing that it was “an eventuality” for which Delhi was prepared over the past few months. However, that it is finally taking place does not make India happy.

India sees a desire on Russia’s part to play the role of a mediator to mend the damaged relations between Delhi and Islamabad, though this is not being admitted publicly.

Putin made an unsuccessful attempt when — at a Central Asian security meet last summer — he invited both Musharraf and Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to come to Moscow to sort out their differences over Kashmir. Vajpayee had politely turned down the offer.

Russia started responding to Pakistani wooing a few years ago. In September 2000, on the eve of Putin’s visit to India, the Russian President had despatched a special envoy to Islamabad. Russia argued that it was basically to enlist Pakistan’s support in fighting Islamic fundamentalists inside Russian territory.

The same argument seems to be the main driving force for Musharraf’s Moscow visit. The Russians feel that, as the Taliban regime in Afghanistan has been dislodged, rebel groups in the country have sought a safe haven in Pakistan.

Pakistan foreign secretary Riaz Khokhar, during his visit to Moscow recently, assured the leadership there that his government was not backing any anti-Russia terrorist group. “Chechnya is an internal problem of Russia,” Khokhar said in an apparent bid to maintain Islamabad’s neutrality on the matter.

Khokhar also promised that Pakistan will take action against any group or individual involved in terrorist activities within Russia, provided Moscow furnished their names and details of their locations to Islamabad.

The Russian leadership is not satisfied with the foreign secretary’s assurance as, in the past, some Pakistani nationals were found fighting alongside rebels in Chechnya. It feels that Musharraf will be more forthright than Khokhar in assuring Russia on the steps it will take on the Chechen terrorists.

The other important component of Russia-Pakistan relations is the economic content. Cash-strapped Russia is looking for new markets for its goods and expertise in different fields and in Pakistan it finds more than a willing partner.

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