Afghans Embrace Educated Pakistanis

Afghans tend to blame Pakistan for just about every problem in Afghanistan. Yet thousands of highly skilled Pakistanis decide to brave the insurgency, animosity and poorer conditions to live and work in Kabul. They say that even when times are tough between the two countries, Afghans make them feel welcome.

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Afghanistan and Pakistan are accusing each other of stifling efforts to negotiate peace with the Taliban. That sniping isn't doing anything to alleviate the hostile views a lot of Afghans have towards their neighbor. Given the volatile history, one might think Afghanistan would be the last place skilled Pakistanis would want to work. Yet, there are thousands of white-collar workers from Pakistan living in Kabul.

As NPR's Sean Carberry found out, they say that even at times like this, Afghans make them feel at home.

(SOUNDBITE OF A CROWD)

SEAN CARBERRY, BYLINE: Young Afghan men and women file into evening classes at Kardan Institute of Higher Education in Kabul. Nearly all of their classes in business, IT, or law are taught by Pakistanis.

One professor is silver-haired Enamullah Masid. He says that four years ago, he was happily living in the Pakistani city of Peshawar when the founder of the institute contacted him about teaching in Kabul.

ENAMULLAH MASID: I was reluctant. He pushed me through this one sentence that, OK, If you don't come, we'll call someone from India.

(LAUGHTER)

CARBERRY: The threat of hiring someone from Pakistan's enemy inspired Masid to move to Kabul.

MASID: In these four years, I have never been through a single negative incident, a single.

CARBERRY: He says students, people on the street, and even security officials have been cordial with him, often more so than in Pakistan. He says that at times like this when Afghanistan and Pakistan are at odds with each other, Afghans do voice their frustrations at him, but he never feels it's hostile or personal.

MASID: They make it very clear, and I also understand it, that when they say you, they mean the government of Pakistan.

CARBERRY: Fellow professor Safdar Iqbal agrees. He says the conflicts are between the two governments, not the people. He argues the reason the Afghans are friendly is because so many have lived in Pakistan over the years. More than three million Afghan refugees swarmed into Pakistan during the war with the Soviets and Pakistan continues to host more than a million and a half Afghans. Iqbal says that's engendered good will from Afghans.

SAFDAR IQBAL: They feel very happy that we are also here. We're also providing them education, knowledge.

CARBERRY: That highlights one of the realities here; there simply aren't enough educated Afghans to fill all the jobs in universities or the business sector. In addition to white-collar workers, many unskilled Pakistanis also come to Afghanistan. And they often do face animosity, but that's because they are seen as taking jobs away from unskilled Afghans.

(SOUNDBITE OF A CONVERSATION)

CARBERRY: Across town from the Kardan Institute is an office building full of Pakistani accounting and auditing firms. One of the accountants, Moin Qadar Janjua, says that while the Afghan people have been very friendly, the authorities can get prickly.

MOIN QADAR JANJUA: During these days, when there is a conflict at high level...

(LAUGHTER)

JANJUA: ...the intelligence people will normally visit to our office.

CARBERRY: And he says they're more likely to get stopped at security checkpoints in the city. While all the educated Pakistanis I spoke with had overwhelmingly positive things to say about living and working in Afghanistan, Safdar Iqbal at Kardan Institute, says he's not sure how much longer he will stay here.

IQBAL: There is a fear in our mind: So what will we happen in the next year, what will be happening?

CARBERRY: The uncertainty about security in Afghanistan after the NATO mission ends in 2014 has him making contingency plans to return home.

Sean Carberry, NPR News, Kabul.

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