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Pakistan Helped Create The Taliban. Here's What It Means For The Country Now


Pakistan shares a long border with Afghanistan, and it has a long history of backing the Taliban. Pakistan was one of just three countries to recognize the Taliban government when it took power in 1996. Now the Taliban are once again in control of Afghanistan. NPR's Jackie Northam is in Islamabad. She joins us on the line.

Jackie, what has Pakistan's government had to say about the developments next door?

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: Well, you know, there are many people here in Pakistan that cheered the Taliban seizing control. And in fact, Prime Minister Imran Khan was seen as almost endorsing the Taliban taking Kabul. But, you know, even though the Taliban may have won, they haven't been able to form a government yet. And here in Pakistan, they needed that government to be inclusive and one that respects the rights of Afghanistan's people because if the Taliban don't, then they will once again be an international pariah. And Pakistan doesn't want that. And in fact, Prime Minister Khan issued a statement saying as much.

CORNISH: We mentioned, of course, that these two countries share a border. And as thousands of Afghans are trying to flee through the airport in Kabul, are you seeing similar scenes at the land border?

NORTHAM: Right. Well, we can't actually get there yet, but social media is showing thousands of people at one of the two main border crossings. And at the moment, the Pakistanis are not letting people in unless they have Pakistani passports. You know, remember that Pakistan hosted millions of Afghans for decades after the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979, and they don't want that again. There are concerns about instability and the economic burden it will place on Pakistan if they open up their borders and let thousands of Afghans in. You know, the economy is very bad here. More than 20 million Pakistanis have lost their jobs, and 55,000 small businesses have shut down in the past year or so because of COVID. And so taking on, you know, thousands more Afghans into the country could be a real challenge for this government.

CORNISH: So it sounds like Pakistan feared this kind of humanitarian and security crisis. How are officials there responding?

NORTHAM: Well, you know, they are talking, and it's very clear that there are security concerns here. You know, as you say, Pakistan and Afghanistan share a long border. And the situation in this area is really fluid right now. And we're seeing that with this attack yesterday in Afghanistan. You know, as far as the humanitarian efforts go, the Pakistani authorities are asking hotels here in the capital, Islamabad, to stop taking new reservations for the next three weeks in order to make room for foreigners who are passing through after being evacuated from Afghanistan.

And also, the airport in Kabul is shut, so the U.N. is trying to get supplies - you know, medical and other emergency supplies into Afghanistan. And they're going to use Islamabad as a bridge to get to other cities in Afghanistan. Now, initially, it will be Kandahar and Mazar-i-Sharif in the North, but they're hoping to expand to a number of other Afghan cities soon to drop off these, you know, much-needed supplies.

CORNISH: Finally, I want to talk about the ISIS affiliate known as ISIS-K, who has claimed responsibility for the deadly attacks at the Kabul airport. Does Pakistan fear this group?

NORTHAM: Oh, yeah, definitely, definitely. You know, there are many people here in Pakistan that thought that the Taliban would be able to eliminate ISIS-K, but that hasn't been the case. You know, ISIS-K was formed by disaffected members of the Pakistan Taliban. And, you know, there's concerns that it and other groups will be emboldened by this attack yesterday and stage attacks against the government here. It's happened before in the past, and it could happen again, you know, in the future.

CORNISH: That's NPR's international affairs correspondent Jackie Northam in Islamabad.

Thank you.

NORTHAM: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Jackie Northam is NPR's International Affairs Correspondent. She is a veteran journalist who has spent three decades reporting on conflict, geopolitics, and life across the globe - from the mountains of Afghanistan and the desert sands of Saudi Arabia, to the gritty prison camp at Guantanamo Bay and the pristine beauty of the Arctic.