Russian Foreign Minister Visits Pakistan in Search of Afghan Peace

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his Pakistani counterpart Shah Mehmood Qureshi attend a news conference following their talks in Islamabad, Pakistan, April 7, 2021.(Reuters)

Russia's foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, met his Pakistani counterpart in Islamabad on Wednesday for talks on a 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 Afghanistan with peace talks making little headway and a deadline looming for the United States to withdraw its forces.

"(Pakistan and Russia) share convergent positions on several issues ... including peace and stability in Afghanistan," Pakistan's foreign minister, Shah Mahmoud Qureshi, said on Twitter after their meeting.

The two ministers also discussed economic relations, energy and counter-terrorism cooperation, and progress on a major gas pipeline project.

Lavrov was also due to meet Prime Minister Imran Khan, the Pakistan foreign ministry said in a statement.

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, who Pakistan has for years been accused of supporting.

Pakistan denies that.

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 Wednesday 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.