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How The Mounting Tension In Afghanistan Is Playing Out For Neighboring Pakistan

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Pakistan has long been seen as a shadowy player in Afghanistan. It supported the U.S. war on terror but was also accused of sheltering the Taliban. And, of course, it is where Osama bin Laden was found and killed. So now that foreign forces are leaving Afghanistan, how is this playing across the border? NPR's Diaa Hadid reports.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Non-English language spoken).

DIAA HADID, BYLINE: In a mosque in a Pakistani town that borders Afghanistan, a preacher called on worshippers to give money to the Taliban.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Through interpreter) Muslims, the Quran tells us to fight the infidels with your money, your words and your bodies.

HADID: In another town right under the eyes of Pakistani security officials, dozens waved the black and white Taliban flag and cheer after Afghan insurgents seized a border crossing.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Non-English language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Non-English language spoken).

HADID: The Taliban have deep roots in Pakistan. They emerged from the seminaries that serve some of the hundreds of thousands of Afghan refugees in the country. And Pakistan has been routinely accused of harboring Taliban leaders and their fighters. Recently, the commanding general of the Afghan army, General Sami Sadat, told NPR's Mary Louise Kelly that Taliban fighters were crossing in from Pakistan.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

KELLY: You're saying there are Taliban fighters crossing the border from Pakistan into Afghanistan, and that's part of who your forces are fighting now.

SAMI SADAT: That's correct. From Pakistan, the Taliban crossed armed with a lot of IEDs and landmines and vehicles and other means.

HADID: Pakistani officials deny those claims, but they acknowledge they have some influence over the group. Pakistan pressed Taliban leaders to enter negotiations with Washington. That led to an agreement in February last year for American troops to withdraw. Recently, the interior minister, Sheikh Rasheed Ahmad, told a local news outlet that Taliban fighters come to the country for medical treatment.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SHEIKH RASHEED AHMAD: (Speaking Urdu).

HADID: He adds, the families of the Taliban live here. And then he ticks off the names of the suburbs of the Pakistani capital where they reside. But their presence is problematic, not least because the Taliban have a Pakistani splinter group called the TTP which has undertaken deadly attacks here. The most horrific was in 2014, when their fighters killed 132 children at an army-run school. Two weeks ago, Pakistan's army chief of staff told lawmakers in a briefing that was leaked to local media that the Taliban and their Pakistani offshoot were, quote, "two faces of the same coin." The army chief's changing tone suggests Pakistan is trying to distance itself from the Afghan Taliban.

MADIHA AFZAL: Pakistan worries that if things go badly in Afghanistan, that the blame will fall on Pakistan.

HADID: Madiha Afzal is at the Brookings Institution. She says Pakistan is grappling with the consequences of treating the Afghan Taliban as friends and the TTP as enemies.

AFZAL: The TTP has a clear relationship with the Afghan Taliban. But juxtaposed with this is the fact that the Afghan Taliban has had sanctuary in Pakistan.

HADID: For now, Pakistan is calling for a negotiated end to the Afghan conflict. More chaos could allow the TTP to take sanctuary in neighboring Afghanistan and conduct cross-border attacks.

MALEEHA LODHI: What Pakistan wishes to see in Afghanistan is peace and stability. It does not want the Taliban to mount a military assault on Kabul.

HADID: Maleeha Lodhi is a former Pakistani ambassador.

LODHI: It has publicly said that it wants an inclusive government that reflects Afghanistan's diversity.

HADID: And behind those calls for an inclusive government, which would include the Taliban, appears to be hope for a friendlier Afghan regime. Relations are prickly at best with the current Afghan government. Both sides sometimes exchange insulting barbs on social media. Javed Ashraf Qazi is a former head of Pakistan's powerful military intelligence agency. He believes the Afghan Taliban could moderate their Pakistani splinter group.

JAVED ASHRAF QAZI: If the Taliban, who are friendly to Pakistan, gain prominence and come into power, then probably the threat to Pakistan will reduce.

HADID: In all cases, Qazi says Pakistan is fencing off its border with Afghanistan. He says, let them fight in their own country.

Diaa Hadid, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF THIS WILL DESTROY YOU'S "QUIET") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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