The Key Role Pakistan Is Playing In U.S.-Taliban Talks Critics have long contended that Pakistan has offered the Taliban shelter, if not outright support. Now the country is facilitating negotiations between Washington and the Taliban.
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The Key Role Pakistan Is Playing In U.S.-Taliban Talks

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The Key Role Pakistan Is Playing In U.S.-Taliban Talks

The Key Role Pakistan Is Playing In U.S.-Taliban Talks

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're seeing signs of hope for a peace deal in Afghanistan. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani is currently reviewing a draft agreement reached by the U.S. and the Taliban. He has promised a response in coming days. Meanwhile, though, the violence is far from over in Afghanistan. This weekend, there were two attacks Afghan officials say were carried out by the Taliban. And there is violence in neighboring Pakistan, too. A bombing there earlier this month highlights the powerful and uneasy role that country plays in these peace negotiations. NPR's Diaa Hadid reports from Islamabad.

DIAA HADID, BYLINE: Critics have long contended that Pakistan has held some sway over the Taliban by offering them shelter, if not outright support. But the extent of Pakistan's influence over the insurgents isn't clear. And that's deliberately so. This is Stephen Tankel, professor in the School of International Service at the American University.

STEPHEN TANKEL: They have long since made a practice of simultaneously trying to downplay their support for the Taliban while simultaneously trying to argue that any deal with the Taliban has to go through them.

HADID: But Pakistan has enough influence that it's been assisting negotiations. They're expected to allow most American forces to withdraw from Afghanistan, in return for the insurgents agreeing not to allow the country to become a base for global terror attacks. To kickstart negotiations last October, Pakistan released the co-founder of the Taliban. That man, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, is now the Taliban's chief negotiator. And in December, at President Trump's request, Pakistani officials prodded the insurgents to take negotiations more seriously. That was after talks appeared to falter. This is Madiha Afzal at the Brookings Institution.

MADIHA AFZAL: I think Pakistan is very aware of its strategic importance here.

HADID: She says Pakistan is trying to assert its own interests in Afghanistan.

AFZAL: Pakistan doesn't want huge conflict in Afghanistan, but it always wants to be relevant. The Taliban make Pakistan more relevant than the Afghan government, which, you know, has issues with Pakistan.

HADID: The key is when foreign forces leave and Afghans negotiate a political future. Abdul Basit is a retired diplomat and president of the Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies in Islamabad. He says Pakistan wants Afghans to delay their upcoming presidential elections.

ABDUL BASIT: If the elections are held and we have a new president in Afghanistan, that will further complicate the situation on the ground. Then perhaps the next step would be to postpone this election and come up with a national unity government.

HADID: That will include the Taliban. But how much power should they have? Shahid Latif is a retired air vice marshal. He often helps journalists understand the thinking of the Pakistani military.

SHAHID LATIF: I think Pakistan is supporting Taliban in getting to the mainstream part, which means they should be part of the government. And perhaps the world will not accept Taliban taking over complete Afghanistan. So I think we need to talk to Taliban, reach an amicable solution with them.

HADID: Latif says the current Afghan government, led by President Ashraf Ghani, is seen as friendly to their bitter enemy, India.

LATIF: Any government that is dependent on India will certainly not have any good feelings for Pakistan. So that is obviously unacceptable.

HADID: Afghans have long resented Pakistan's involvement in their country's affairs and their relations with the Taliban. Some fear if the insurgents are part of an interim government, they'll impose their harsh version of Islamic law or just seize power outright. But Basit, the retired diplomat, says Pakistan wants to prevent chaos from engulfing Afghanistan and potentially destabilizing his country, as well. Dear Hadid, NPR News, Islamabad.

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