Islamabad: Russia on Thursday ruled out playing a role in resolving the Kashmir problem, saying India and Pakistan are capable of settling their outstanding issues themselves.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said India and Pakistan are capable of settling issues though bilateral discussions without outside help. India and Pakistan were in touch and talking to each other, Lavrov noted while speaking through an interpreter during a joint news conference with Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar.

"We discussed this issue. We welcome steps Pakistan and India have taken on confidence-building measures. Both countries are capable of settling their issues on their own without any foreign assistance," Lavrov said.     

The two countries have "established diplomatic traditions" and the ongoing contacts between India and Pakistan are a "good" development, he said. The two Foreign Ministers, who addressed the media after delegation-level talks, said there was convergence of views on regional and international issues, including the situation in Afghanistan, Syria and Libya and the Iranian nuclear programme.

Lavrov backed Khar's contention that US drone strikes were a violation of Pakistan's sovereignty. Responding to a question related to the US drone campaign targeting Taliban and al-Qaeda elements in Pakistan's tribal areas, Khar said her government's position in private and public dealings with the US on this issue were the same.

"If the objective of drone strikes is to end terrorism, then Pakistan ascribes to that objective... However, the ways and means that we use to achieve those objectives must be legal, lawful and not counter-productive," she said.

The drone strikes are "illegal, unlawful and counter-productive," Khar said. The world community has to work according to UN Charter and find legal ways of handling counter-terrorism efforts, she added.

Pakistan drone attacks

"Drone strikes are against Pakistan's sovereignty and we have to make sure that... our eyes are on winning the war and not only the battle," Khar said. The killing of one or two terrorists at the cost of civilian casualties and collateral damage would help win a battle but "we will certainly lose the war," she contended.

Backing Khar's stance, Lavrov remarked: "It is not acceptable to violate the sovereignty and territorial integrity of any state and this approach has been voiced by our colleague and we fully support it."

Lavrov said all proposals to settle the conflict in Afghanistan "should come from the territory of Afghanistan and foreign partners should only encourage these proposals."

He said "lots of remedies were imposed from outside but none of them worked in Afghanistan."     The Russian Foreign Minister rushed to Islamabad to smooth ruffled feathers after President Vladimir Putin abruptly called off an official visit that was to begin on October 2.

Putin's decision also led to the postponement of a quadrilateral summit of Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan and Afghanistan. The Foreign Office had intended to create the framework for a new Pakistan-Russia relationship, with special focus on Afghanistan, during Putin's visit.

Pakistani officials had been projecting the proposed visit as an event that could reset bilateral relations after decades of acrimony and suspicion.     

Cancellation of Putin’s reaction

Responding to several questions on the cancellation of Putin's visit, Lavrov attributed the development to Putin's "tough schedule."

He said Putin had sent a message to President Asif Ali Zardari in this regard and expressed hope that dates would be arranged for a meeting in future.

Shortly before Lavrov flew into Islamabad yesterday, Pakistan Army Chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani embarked on a a three-day visit to Russia. Kayani is visiting Russia at the invitation of Nikolai Makarov, the Chief of General Staff of Russian armed forces.

Besides meeting his Russian counterpart, Kayani will hold several meetings with the political leadership in Moscow. He is also expected to meet President Putin, officials said.

Pakistani officials are projecting these contacts as part of efforts to reset the relationship between Islamabad and Moscow ahead of the pullout of foreign troops from Afghanistan.


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