Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov (pictured), met his Pakistani counterpart in Islamabad on Wednesday (7 April) for talks on a troubled peace process in Afghanistan, where both countries have long histories of involvement, writes Charlotte Greenfield.
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 US-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.
Ukraine and Afghanistan in spotlight as Blinken Visits Brussels
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (pictured) headed to Brussels today (13 April) to meet with European and NATO allies on a range of issues, including Russia’s buildup of forces along the border with Ukraine and coalition operations in Afghanistan.
The visit comes three weeks after Blinken was in Brussels for a summit with his counterparts from NATO member states. Blinken spoke of the priority for the United States to focus on strengthening ties with allies during the previous meeting.
“Glad to be heading back to Brussels. The United States is committed to rebuilding U.S. alliances, particularly with our NATO Allies,” Blinken tweeted on Monday (12 April). “We remain steadfast in our support for NATO as the essential forum for Transatlantic security.”
Blinken’s schedule for today includes talks with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba.
Russia’s recent movement of troops to the border area has raised concerns in the United States and elsewhere.
Blinken spoke with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg about the situation Monday and said there was mutual agreement that “Russia must end its dangerous military buildup and ongoing aggression along Ukraine’s borders.”
Philip Reeker, the US acting assistant secretary for the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, told reporters in previewing Blinken’s meetings that NATO talks about Ukraine would bring calls for Russia to show restraint and refrain from “escalatory actions.”
Joining Blinken in Brussels is US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.
Another major topic of discussion will be the situation in Afghanistan just weeks before a May 1 deadline set an agreement between the administration of former US President Donald Trump and the Taliban for the withdrawal of the remaining 2,500 U.S forces from the country.
Reeker said those talks would be an opportunity to follow up on discussions about Afghanistan from the ministerial meetings last month. Blinken said during the March talks that the United States wanted to “listen and consult” with NATO allies, while pledging to “leave together” when the time is right.
Crisis Management Commissioner in Kabul: EU steps up humanitarian assistance with €32 million
Crisis Management Commissioner Janez Lenarčič has concluded an official visit to Kabul, Afghanistan, as the country tries to move beyond one of the deadliest conflicts worldwide, lasting decades. The visit was the first of an EU humanitarian affairs Commissioner in several years and aimed to maintain EU support following 2020 Afghanistan Conference towards bringing peace to the country. During the visit, the Commissioner announced €32 million in humanitarian support to assist the civilians affected by the conflict for 2021.
Lenarčič said: “Whilst peace negotiations are ongoing, humanitarian aid can be the central way to reach more than half of the population in the country, some 19 million people. It is paramount that all parties to the conflict facilitate the delivery of humanitarian assistance and expand safe and unhindered access to the most vulnerable. Moreover the protection of civilians, of education facilities, of hospitals and humanitarian missions cannot wait till the end of the peace negotiations. For them to conclude successfully, respect of International Humanitarian Law to safeguard lives is an essential prerequisite for a lasting peace and sustainable future of the country.”
In Kabul, the commissioner met H.E. President Ashraf Ghani as well as Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation. Additionally, a meeting with Ramiz Alakbarov, Deputy SRSG/Humanitarian Coordinator took place, along with key UN partners such as WHO, WFP, UNICEF and international NGOs. The full press release is available here.
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