Islamabad: Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan on Monday spoke to Vladimir Putin and exchanged views on bilateral cooperation as well as regional and international issues and also appreciated the Russian President’s “emphatic statement” that freedom of speech could not be a pretext to abuse the Prophet.

During a telephonic conversation with President Putin, Prime Minister Khan said he has regularly highlighted the appalling rise in Islamophobia and associated hatred in his addresses to the UN General Assembly, pointing towards its serious ramifications, the Foreign Office said in a statement.

He “appreciated President’s Putin statement that insulting Holy Prophet Muhammad does not count as an expression of artistic freedom , it said.

Khan in a tweet said he spoke to Putin “primarily to express my appreciation for his emphatic statement that freedom of speech could not be a pretext to abuse our Prophet”.

“He (Putin) is the first Western leader to show empathy & sensitivity to Muslim sentiment for their beloved Prophet,” said Khan, who frequently faces the wrath of hardline Islamists in the country over offensive caricatures of the Prophet in some western publications.

Khan said they also discussed ways to move forward on trade and other mutually beneficial cooperation between Pakistan and Russia and invited each other to visit their respective countries.

During the conversation, the two leaders exchanged views on bilateral cooperation as well as regional and international issues of mutual interest, the Foreign Office statement said.

Khan underscored that Pakistan’s bilateral relationship with Russia was on an upward trajectory, with an increased focus on trade and economic ties and energy cooperation, it said.

He reiterated the government’s resolve for early realisation of the Pakistan Stream Gas Pipeline Project, which is being developed with Russia’s aid.

Khan and Putin agreed to enhance bilateral cooperation in different areas, increase high-level exchanges, and remain in close contact on matters relating to Afghanistan, the statement said.

Khan also said a peaceful and stable Afghanistan was pivotal for regional stability. He said Afghanistan was facing dire humanitarian and economic challenges and support of the international community to the people of Afghanistan at this critical juncture remained vitally important.

According to a report in Pakistan Observer newspaper, in December last, Putin while addressing his annual news conference said that insults to the Prophet are a violation of religious freedom and the violation of the sacred feelings of people who profess Islam .

The Russian president highlighted that such acts trigger extremist reprisals, citing as an example the attack on the editorial office of Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris after it published blasphemous sketches of the Prophet, the report said.

Pakistan’s defence ties with Russia have moved past the bitter Cold War hostilities in recent years and the chill in the relations between Pakistan and the US has further pushed the country towards Russia and China.

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