ISLAMABAD  -   Pakistan supported Russia’s interest and role to ensure peace in Afghanistan, parallel to the United States-Afghan Taliban talks, officials said.

Senior officials at the foreign ministry told The Nation that the US was not inclined to accept Russia and China’s role to the solution of the Afghanistan issue but Pakistan differed with the idea.

“Russia obviously is a big power and Pakistan has developed good ties with Russia. We accept their role. Russia is very important player. The US has its own issues with Russia and China,” said one official.

He said Pakistan was also helping the US in the peace talks with the Afghan Taliban. “We believe regional peace is a collective responsibility. Afghanistan is a big issue and support from Russia and China is vital to resolve this problem,” he added.

Another official said Pakistan welcomed joint efforts to resolve the Afghanistan issue and to defuse the Pak-India tension. “Russia also can play a good role on Pak-India tension. The US also needs to step in. the regional peace should be global goal,” he said.

Yesterday, the Afghan Taliban appreciated Russia’s efforts to help resolve the situation in Afghanistan and expected Moscow to continue providing assistance in settling the issue.

Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, the head of a Taliban delegation taking part in an intra-Afghan conference in Moscow, said: “We hope that we will be able to find a solution with Russia’s assistance.”

Stanikzai commended discussions taking place at the intra-Afghan conference in Moscow. “No representatives of the government were expected to participate in the meeting. This is a dialogue between the Taliban movement and community members,” he said.

The intra-Afghan conference, arranged by the Afghan community in Russia, took place in Moscow on February 5-6. The meeting’s discussed the situation in Afghanistan and ways to peacefully resolve the years-long conflict.

The Taliban are seeking the pullout of all foreign troops from Afghanistan within months. “This is the first step,” Stanikzai said, adding:  “It will continue in the future with the hope that it can bring peace one day to Afghanistan.”

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s administration shunned the Russian-hosted initiative, which came after the US announced it was close to reaching a framework agreement with the Taliban on ending the 18-year Afghan war, including on the withdrawal of foreign troops.

The Afghan government is worrying openly that the US will leave them at the mercy of the Taliban. The militant group, which is on the offensive and already controls or contests about half of territory in Afghanistan, refuses to hold talks with the authorities in Kabul until it reaches a binding deal on the pullout of foreign troops, including 14,000 from the US.

During the talks last month, the Taliban had agreed with the US on the withdrawal of “all foreign troops from Afghanistan” and “that the soil of Afghanistan would not be used against them,” said Stanikzai. “Now the exact timetable for the pullout must be decided but the Taliban want to see this happen in months,” he said.

Ghani’s government had declined to attend the Moscow meeting, organised by an association of Afghans in Russia with the help of the Russian Foreign Ministry but several leading political rivals were in attendance. They included former president Hamid Karzai, ex-national security chief Haneef Atmar and an ally of Afghan Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah. Both Abdullah and Atmar are running in the presidential elections scheduled for July against Ghani. Karzai praised the dialogue with the Taliban and said the government “needs to be part of these negotiations.”

Last month, Pakistan and Russia had vowed to work together for peace in Afghanistan and supported each other’s ‘regional initiatives.’ During a meeting between Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Russian envoy on Afghanistan Ambassador Zamir Kabulov, the two countries agreed to continue regular consultations on the Afghan peace process and support regional initiatives.

In December, Pakistan had launched a campaign to win over the key neighbours on the Afghanistan issue and regional peace. Foreign Minister Qureshi, accompanied by Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua and senior officials, had gone on a four-nation tour on December 24 as part of the government’s policy of “outreach in the neighbourhood.” They visited Afghanistan, Iran, China and Russia from December 24-26.

Pakistan has always maintained that the solution to the conflict in Afghanistan lied in an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process. International community’s recent consensus to adopt this as the guiding principle to resolve the 40-years old Afghan conflict, vindicated Pakistan’s long held view.

Pakistan also arranged meetings between the Afghan Taliban and the US with an aim to ensure peace in the war-torn country. Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other stakeholders were in touch during the meeting.

Last November, Russia had hosted talks on peace and Afghanistan Taliban which among Afghan leaders were also participated China, Iran and Pakistan. There were no significant breakthroughs during the Moscow meeting, which was attended by representatives of 11 countries. But delegates widely acknowledged that the meeting itself was a feat.

Foreign Office spokesperson Dr Mohammed Faisal said while efforts to settle the decades old bloody conflict in Afghanistan were underway, “the Afghan people, the US and the Taliban must remain watchful of these detractors and expose them so that their nefarious designs do not undermine the nascent peace initiative.” He said Pakistan believed in Afghan-owned peace process. “A peaceful Afghanistan is in our interest,” he remarked.