Islamabad, Pakistan – Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov has met with his Pakistani counterpart Shah Mehmood Qureshi in the Pakistani capital Islamabad, with both countries reaffirming their support for the Afghan peace process and expressing concern at the violence in that country.
Lavrov met Qureshi at the Pakistani foreign ministry for delegation-level talks on Wednesday, and will also hold meetings with Prime Minister Imran Khan, army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa and other top officials.
“We are also concerned by the deterioration of the situation in the area of security in Afghanistan and by the rise in terrorist activities and march of ISIL in the north and east of the country,” said Lavrov after his talks with Qureshi.
“We agreed that we need to further facilitate the contradictory and hostile parties [in Afghanistan] for them to reach an agreement and put an end to a civil war based on inclusive dialogue.”
Qureshi said the two sides have seen “good cooperation” on their Afghan policies.
“We also discussed the successful ‘expanded troika’ meeting [held in Moscow on March 18], the possibility of another Moscow meeting and instructed our envoys to stay in close contact to remain in touch and to coordinate their positions,” he said.
Earlier, a Russian statement said the country was looking “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”.
In an interview to a Pakistani newspaper published on Wednesday, Lavrov said Russia and Pakistan shared a “concurrence or similarity of approaches” to regional problems, including the situation in Afghanistan.
Lavrov’s visit to Pakistan comes as a May 1 deadline for the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan looms large. Agreed in a peace agreement signed between Washington and the Taliban, the withdrawal is looking increasingly unlikely given the increase in violence in Afghanistan.
Direct peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban commenced last year in the Qatari capital Doha, but progress has been slow and violence has spiked even as negotiators continue discussions.
Russia held a one-day meeting of the “extended troika” on March 18, hosting members of the Taliban and the Afghan government, as well as Pakistani, Chinese and US representatives, in an effort to spur the peace process.
Warming of ties
The two countries also discussed military cooperation, with Russia offering new hardware to the Pakistani military.
“We have confirmed that we stand ready to strengthen the anti-terrorist potential of Pakistan, including by supplying Pakistan with special military equipment,” said Lavrov. “This serves interests of all states of the region.”
Lavrov’s visit to Pakistan is the first by a Russian foreign minister in nine years and marks the recent warming of ties between the two countries.
Pakistan has been an active participant in Russian-led Eurasian initiatives such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) since 2017.
Increasing bilateral trade will also be high on the agenda, both countries’ foreign ministries said.
In the last fiscal year, trade between the countries stood at almost $350m, up 45 percent from the year before, according to Pakistani central bank data.
The two countries have also been involved in major infrastructure projects, with Russia constructing a major gas pipeline along the length of Pakistan.
On Wednesday, however, the Russian foreign minister referenced bilateral trade of “$790m”, an increase he said was driven by Russian exports of wheat to Pakistan.
The meeting was the third between the two foreign ministers after they met on the sidelines of the SCO summit in Kyrgyzstan in June 2019, and again at an SCO meeting in Moscow in September last year.
“Over the recent past, deepening collaboration in economic, trade and energy sectors has been the focus of the two governments,” said a Pakistani foreign ministry statement.
The two countries reaffirmed their commitment to a major gas pipeline project to link the southern Pakistani city of Karachi, the country’s largest, to the eastern city of Lahore.
The project, agreements on which were signed in 2015, has been stalled since then, but Qureshi said talks on Wednesday had removed several obstacles.
“We have overcome many of the impediments and I am reassured that we have received their response to some of the amendments to the intergovernmental agreement [of 2015] … and I reassure the foreign minister that Pakistan … wants to go ahead with [this project],” said Qureshi.
On coronavirus vaccines, Lavrov said Russia had already sold 50,000 doses of the Russia-developed Sputnik V vaccine to Pakistan, and that it was to provide a further 150,000 doses “soon”.
The two countries also discussed the possibility of signing agreements on local production of the Sputnik V vaccine in Pakistan to help meet the demand in the country of 220 million people.