PM Imran pays tribute to Azeri forces ‘valiantly defending their territorial integrity’

Prime Minister Imran Khan on Sunday extended “warmest felicitations” to Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev and Azeri people on the country’s Independence Day.

“We pay tribute to Azeri forces valiantly defending their territorial integrity,” said the premier, referring to the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.

Nagorno-Karabakh, a breakaway region of Azerbaijan mainly inhabited by ethnic Armenians and backed by Yerevan, has been the scene of deadly clashes since September 27.

“Pakistan stands with Azerbaijan in its quest to resolve Nagorno-Karabakh issue as per UN Security Council resolutions,” he tweeted.

A day earlier, the foreign ministries of Armenia and Azerbaijan said they will declare a “humanitarian truce” from midnight — a second attempt of the warring sides to declare a ceasefire.

The announcement came after Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov held phone talks with his counterparts from Armenia and Azerbaijan and highlighted “the need to strictly follow” a ceasefire deal agreed in Moscow last Saturday.

Armenia and Azerbaijan had last Saturday agreed to a ceasefire after 11 hours of talks, mediated by Lavrov in Moscow, but then both also accused each other of violating the deal.

“Pakistan welcomes the humanitarian truce agreed between Azerbaijan and Armenia to prevent a further humanitarian crisis. This is s a positive development for peace and stability. We hope that the humanitarian conditions agreed upon by the parties would be honoured completely,” said the Foreign Office spokesperson on Sunday.

“Pakistan believes that sustainable peace between the two parties would depend on the complete and comprehensive implementation of the UN Security Council resolutions and withdrawal of Armenian forces from Azerbaijani territories,” he added.

Earlier on Saturday, Pakistan had rejected a claim by Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan that Pakistani special forces were reportedly fighting alongside the Azerbaijani army as “baseless and unwarranted”.

In a statement, the Foreign Office had asked the leadership of Armenia to halt its “irresponsible propaganda” and reiterated support for Azerbaijan’s right to self-defence.

Decades-long conflict

The decades-long Nagorno-Karabakh conflict re-erupted on September 27 and has so far killed more than 700 people, including nearly 80 civilians.

The mountainous western region of Azerbaijan has remained under separatist Armenian control since a 1994 ceasefire ended a brutal war that killed 30,000.

Armenia, which backs Nagorno-Karabakh but does not recognise its independence, has admitted that Azerbaijani forces have made important gains along the front in the past week.

On Saturday, a missile strike levelled a row of homes in Azerbaijan’s second city of Ganja, killing 12 and injuring more than 40 people in their sleep in a sharp escalation of the conflict.

The early hours attack, which saw a second missile strike another part of Ganja and a third reach the nearby strategic city of Mingecevir, came hours after Azerbaijani forces shelled the ethnic Armenian separatist region’s capital Stepanakert.

Additional reporting by Naveed Siddiqui

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