SOCHI, Russia (AFP) – Russia on Wednesday hosts Pakistan's embattled President Asif Ali Zardari and Afghan leader Hamid Karzai for a regional summit expected to focus on security in Afghanistan.
The Pakistan leader is expected to fly in to the Black Sea resort of Sochi for only a few hours after he was heavily criticised at home for his handling of the devastating floods that have caused a massive humanitarian crisis.
|An Afghan policeman patrols in Kandahar province's Arghandab Valley. AFP|
A key aspect of the meeting will be a rare bilateral encounter between Zardari and Karzai, whose country has consistently accused Pakistan's powerful intelligence agency of supporting Taliban insurgents.
Pakistan has reacted furiously to the allegations, particularly after Karzai declared in July that "this war is in the sanctuaries, funding centres and training places of terrorism which are outside Afghanistan."
Russia, still haunted by the Soviet Union's war in Afghanistan which cost over 13,000 Soviet lives, has kept a wary distance from the troubles of NATO forces in the country.
Moscow had made clear it has no plans to send troops to Afghanistan but like several other ex-Soviet states has allowed NATO states to use its airspace for the transit of equipment.
But the summit also allows Russian President Dmitry Medvedev the chance to show his country is engaging in a major international issue at a time when it is seeking to improve its profile on the world stage.
Also taking part will be Tajikistan President Emomali Rakhmon, whose country borders Afghanistan.
"It is planned that special attention is given to the issue of regulating the situation in Aghanistan, the fight against terrorist and narcotic threats, economic reconstruction and the development of Afghanistan and the region," the Kremlin said in a statement ahead of the meeting.
The meeting is the second such four-way meeting of the heads of state, the first taking place in the Tajik capital Dushanbe in July 2009.
Medvedev's foreign policy advisor Sergei Prikhodko said ahead of the meeting that Russia would be interested in delivering helicopters to Afghanistan.
"The question of the delivery of Russian helicopters will be discussed, if it is raised by the Afghan side," he added, the Interfax news agency said, adding that Afghanistan required 100 additional choppers.
Kremlin sources told the agency that such a move could put Russia in direct competition with NATO states also interested in the contract but the whole issue of financing also had to be addressed.
Zardari had originally been planning a two-day visit to Russia but the situation with the floods means his visit has been cut to a few hours and he will not even attend lunch, officials in Islamabad have said.
Moscow is not usually seen as a close ally of Islamabad, not least because of its historically close relationship to Pakistan's traditional foe India.