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How The U.S. Withdrawal From Afghanistan Affects Pakistan

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Look at a map of Afghanistan and you see that across its southern and eastern border, a border of 1,600 miles or so, lies its neighbor, Pakistan. Yet it's hard to talk of one country without mentioning the other. The U.S. war in Afghanistan repeatedly involved Pakistan. Taliban forces pass back-and-forth. Pakistan had its own murderous version of the Taliban. Osama bin Laden crossed the border before he was killed. The U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan affects Pakistan, too.

So we've called the country's ambassador to the United States, Asad Majeed Khan. Ambassador, welcome.

ASAD MAJEED KHAN: Thank you very much, Steve, for having me.

INSKEEP: I just want to remind people of the immediate situation. The U.S. troops are effectively out of Afghanistan. The U.S. allied government is in retreat. And the Taliban have seized more territory, including, I gather, a big border crossing with your country. What immediate danger do you see?

KHAN: Well, I think unraveling of the peace process and continuing instability in Afghanistan, you know, affects Pakistan in more ways than one. You know, Pakistan has historically suffered and paid probably the heaviest price after Afghanistan on account of the conflict, you know, having lost about $150 billion, having lost 70,000 lives. So we are watching with grave concern the unfolding situation. And we - right now I think what is really important is to make sure that the peace process in which we have all put in a lot of energy, you know, is supported so that, you know, this more recent instability is handled in an effective way.

INSKEEP: Now, we're talking about a peace process between the Afghan government and the Taliban, who once controlled the country and have been in an insurgency against the government for a couple of decades now. I want to remind people, Ambassador - Pakistan has been linked in various ways to the Afghan Taliban. I know that your country has rejected claims about how much they support the Taliban. But there are links. You talk to them. You deal with them. Is it in Pakistan's interest for the Taliban to win?

KHAN: No. I think just about - if you - I should say, hours ago, our prime minister, who was - who is in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, said it very clearly, that we have no favorites. Anyone that is acceptable to the people of Afghanistan is acceptable to Pakistan. And we have urged Taliban to, you know, refrain from pushing for a military victory. And I think it is time for the Afghan government to also show flexibility.

INSKEEP: What does that mean, flexibility on the part of the Afghan government that's under such pressure here?

KHAN: Well, I think what is really - as I'm sure perhaps you know, that Pakistan is hosting a peace conference in Islamabad, which is part of our efforts actually to do whatever we can to help facilitate the peace process because I think President Biden is right in saying that, you know, the war in Afghanistan is not winnable. But we clearly believe and firmly believe that peace certainly still is winnable in Afghanistan. And for that to be, we have to make a concerted effort. And I think, Steve, what is also important - looking at the situation in Afghanistan and the concern that our friends have here in United States of any potential terrorism threat that the situation in Afghanistan could pose to the homeland - I think focusing on the peace process, delivering on the peace process is the best counterterrorism investment that United States could make. And now, coming back to what flexibility the Afghan leadership or...

INSKEEP: Yes.

KHAN: ...The Afghan parties could show, I think what is really important is for all of them to come together and sit across the table to see what is that common basis that could lead to the resolution of this conflict. And they could agree on some form of a government that...

INSKEEP: Does it...

KHAN: ...Is acceptable.

INSKEEP: ...If I may, Ambassador, does it look like a civil war is more likely on your border, a full-blown civil war? It's effectively been one for a long time.

KHAN: That is what we are afraid of. And that is what we are really concerned about. And that's why, as I said, that, you know, because - and that is going to make Afghanistan a place where we will have ungoverned spaces, where we will have militia then. And that is what concerns not just Pakistan. I think that concerns all of the countries in the neighborhood. And this is amply reflected in the extended troika declaration, where all the important countries in the neighborhood have urged Afghanistan and all the Afghan parties to come to an inclusive, comprehensive peace agreement because...

INSKEEP: If that...

KHAN: ...They are all concerned.

INSKEEP: ...Does not happen, Ambassador, is your country prepared, as it has had to do in the past, to receive many Afghan refugees?

KHAN: Steve, you know, we have our hands full. You know, Pakistan is probably the only country in the world that has hosted - as we speak, there are around 3 million Afghan refugees already in Pakistan. We really don't have either the economic muscle or the space to host more Afghan refugees. That's why we believe that it is in our interest. It is in the interest of Afghanistan to move the process because if the process fails, we are going to see refugees not just trickling into Pakistan but going across to other countries in the immediate neighborhood and then going across to Europe and the rest of the world.

INSKEEP: Ambassador...

KHAN: So that's, I think, also in everybody's self-interest to make sure that the Afghan parties - and then all of them are nudged - not just Taliban, and they are nudged to reach some common understanding.

INSKEEP: Ambassador, it's always a pleasure talking with you. Thank you so much.

KHAN: Thank you so much.

INSKEEP: Ambassador Asad Majeed Khan of Pakistan. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.