ISLAMABAD (Reuters) -Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Wednesday met Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and the country’s army chief for talks on the troubled peace process in Afghanistan, where both countries have long histories of involvement.
It was the first time a Russian foreign minister had visited Pakistan in nine years and comes at a sensitive time for neighbouring Afghanistan with peace talks making little headway and a deadline looming for the United States to withdraw its forces.
Khan highlighted the importance of a negotiated political settlement to the war in Afghanistan during the meeting, according to a statement from his office.
“Pakistan appreciated Russia’s efforts in promoting the Afghan peace process through the hosting of the recent meeting…in Moscow,” the statement said, referring to a recent summit on the peace process that Pakistan attended.
They also discussed economic relations, the COVID-19 pandemic and progress on a major gas pipeline project.
Lavrov also met Pakistan’s army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, at army headquarters in the city of Rawalpindi, according to a statement from the military.
“During the meeting, matters of mutual interest including enhanced defence and security cooperation, regional security, particularly Afghan Peace Process were discussed,” the statement said.
In the 1980s, Pakistan and the United States were the main supporters of the Islamist fighters who battled occupying Soviet forces.
Now, Russia is concerned about Afghan instability spilling over into central Asia as the United States seeks to extricate itself from a war in Afghanistan against the Islamist Taliban.
Russia hosted an international conference on Afghanistan in Moscow last month at which the participants, including the United States, China and Pakistan, issued a statement calling on the warring Afghan sides to reach a peace deal and curb violence.
“A common concern is the situation in Afghanistan,” Russia’s foreign ministry said in a statement on Lavrov’s visit to Pakistan.
“We look forward to an early finding of a constructive solution in order to end the civil war in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan through agreements on the formation of an inclusive government with the participation of the Taliban movement.”
The United States signed an agreement with the Taliban last year allowing it to withdraw its forces in exchange for a Taliban guarantee to prevent international terrorism.
But fighting between the U.S.-backed Afghan government and the Taliban still rages.
The United States is pushing for an interim Afghan government between the two sides as a May 1 deadline approaches for it to withdraw its forces under the pact.
President Joe Biden has said that date will be hard to meet despite Taliban threats of more violence if it is not.
(Reporting by Charlotte Greenfield; Additional reporting by Asif Shahzad and Sheree SardarEditing by Robert Birsel and Toby Chopra)