Russian FM in Pakistan, Afghan talks to dominate agenda

In this photo released by the Pakistan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, visiting Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, center left, talks with his Pakistani counterpart Shah Mahmood Qureshi, on his arrival to Islamabad, Pakistan, Tuesday, April 6, 2021. Lavrov arrived for a two-day visit expected to focus on efforts to bring peace to neighboring Afghanistan as a May 1 deadline for U.S. troops to leave Afghanistan in line with a deal Washington signed a year ago with the Taliban seems increasingly unlikely. (Pakistan Ministry of Foreign Affairs via AP)
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KATHY GANNON
·2 min read
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ISLAMABAD (AP) — Russia’s foreign minister arrived Tuesday in Pakistan for a two-day visit expected to focus on efforts to bring peace to neighboring Afghanistan.

Sergey Lavrov's visit comes as a May 1 deadline for U.S. troops to leave Afghanistan in line with a deal Washington signed a year ago with the Taliban seems increasingly unlikely.

“A common concern is the situation in Afghanistan,” said a Russian Foreign Ministry statement. “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 U.S. has accelerated efforts to get a peace deal for Afghanistan but is also seeking a three- to six-month extension of the troop withdrawal deadline amid repeated statements from President Joe Biden that America wants to end its longest war.

The Taliban have warned against overstepping the deadline and threatened more attacks including an end to a moratorium on attacks against U.S. and NATO troops.

Afghanistan has seen a nationwide spike in bombings, targeted killings, and violence on the battlefield as peace negotiations in Qatar between the Taliban and the Afghan government have stalled.

Lavrov heads a 13-member delegation that includes Moscow's special representative for Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov. Russia has intensified efforts to interject itself as a key player in the peace push and last month, Moscow hosted Taliban and Afghan government officials for a one-day meeting.

Following a 10-year occupation and thousands of soldiers who died in Afghanistan, the Soviets negotiated their exit from Afghanistan in February, 1989. The exit came after so-called proximity talks between Afghanistan's communist government and the U.S.-backed mujahedeen, many of whom are now in the Taliban, while others are warlords linked to the Kabul government.

Three years later the pro-Moscow government led by President Najibullah, who used only one name, fell to the mujahedeen.

Lavrov's visit to Pakistan is the first by a Russian foreign minister in nine years. Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said in a video statement Tuesday that the visit is indicative of a closer relationship between the two countries.

The Russian ministry statement said the visit will also focus on bilateral trade, which last year was nearly $800 million, a lot of that in Russian wheat.

Russia's top diplomat arrived from India. While in Pakistan, Lavrov will meet Prime Minister Imran Khan, who recently recovered from COVID-19, as well as Pakistan's powerful army chief, Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa.

“Pakistan and Russia are working together in the Afghan peace process,” Qureshi said in the video statement.