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How Pakistan Is Reacting To The Return Of The Taliban In Afghanistan

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

We just heard how some Afghans may be feeling about the U.S. presence and withdrawal from their country. But what about the nations which border Afghanistan, like Pakistan? That's where Morning Edition's Steve Inskeep is this week, and he joins us now from Islamabad. Hi, Steve.

STEVE INSKEEP, BYLINE: Hey, good to talk with you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What are you hearing from people about the abrupt change of events just across the border?

INSKEEP: Well, there's been some celebration here. There were even a few people who were seen flying Taliban flags in Pakistan. Some people have always supported the Taliban here. Other people just thought the U.S. departure was inevitable. We met a man who said the U.S. presence there was unnatural and that it had to end. Now, the Pakistani government is often accused of supporting the Taliban, which they deny. But they had advocated that the way to peace was for the Taliban to join the government. They got that. But because of the way they got it, officials also worry.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Explain that a little bit more. What do you mean?

INSKEEP: Well, Pakistani officials have insisted all along that what they really want in Afghanistan was stability, and they don't have it because the old government collapsed so quickly. And there's no clear sign yet that the Taliban are going to succeed in building an inclusive government that prevents any further war, any further conflict. We spoke with a retired Pakistani general about this. His name is Isfandiyar Pataudi. He used to be with the ISI, the Inter-Services Intelligence agency, which is very powerful and influential here. And he was concerned about the way the U.S. presence ended.

ISFANDIYAR PATAUDI: It's been a bit of a letdown that you've not left a stable country after 20 years of occupation. Now people are struggling to leave. The economy is in shambles. There's no law and order. I mean, how is this country going to function? You haven't promised it any grants, aid for the future. If this is going to be the end state, then you might never have come back after, let's say, January 2002 - just gone and left.

INSKEEP: Pakistani officials have been arguing, Lulu, for the United States to remain involved in the region and in Afghanistan particularly.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And we should note, I guess, that Pakistan also has its own Taliban insurgency. What did 20 years of war do to Pakistan?

INSKEEP: Well, it's remained for many people a hard place to live. Now, it's not Afghanistan. It is a much more developed country and a much, much larger country. But the economy isn't what it might be. It's certainly not as strong as India next door. Thousands of people were killed in bombings. Thousands more were killed in conflicts with Pakistani troops - between Pakistani troops and militants. If you stay in hotels here, most of them have massive security because so many of them at one time or another were blown up.

And during all of that time, people in this country were struggling for democracy. They live in a country where officials are elected. But the army has great power, staged coups from time to time. And the war has made it harder to try for freedom. We talked about this with Hamid Mir, who's a leading journalist here, and he said he saw a connection between the lack of democracy and violence.

HAMID MIR: On one side, Pakistan was fighting against war, against terror. On the other side, we were losing our freedom of speech. We were losing our human rights. Our parliament was getting weak because a military dictator was ruling Pakistan. He was supported by the America. He was supported by all the Western countries. He was violating human rights. And the world was silent because he was helping the world in war against terror.

INSKEEP: Now, that was years ago. Pakistan eventually did shake off that military ruler, but the army does still dominate here. And lately, according to journalists, they've been placing new limits on what the media can publish. Hamid Mir, this very prominent journalist, says he's been banned from appearing on his own TV channel, a channel he helped to found, which is one of the reasons, as I visit here for the latest time, this country feels safer than it often has in the past, but it also feels less free.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's the host of NPR's Morning Edition, Steve Inskeep, talking to us from Islamabad, Pakistan. You can hear his stories on Morning Edition in the coming days. Thank you so much, Steve.

INSKEEP: Always good to talk with you, Lulu. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.