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Pakistan Sees 'Some Limited Room For Optimism' With Taliban In Afghanistan

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

How does the fall of the government in Afghanistan affect that country's neighbor, Pakistan? What responsibility does Pakistan bear for the situation on its border going forward? And what does the U.S.-Pakistan relationship look like now? Well, we have the ideal person with us to field those questions, Pakistan's ambassador to the United States, Asad Majeed Khan.

Ambassador, welcome.

ASAD MAJEED KHAN: Thank you very much, Mary Louise.

KELLY: Let us start with what is obviously a very unstable, very fluid situation unfolding next door to Pakistan. What is Pakistan doing right now to help?

KHAN: Well, this is something that we have done all along is to facilitate a conversation first between the United States and Taliban and then between the Afghan parties. And we believe that an inclusive settlement where all Afghan parties can be a part of is what Afghanistan needs to achieve long-term sustainable peace. And we are obviously also concerned about the evolving situation. You are right. It has evolved too quickly and has unfortunately deteriorated. So we are tracking developments very closely.

KELLY: You said it's evolved too quickly. Your government has been celebrating the Taliban victory. The prime minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, says Afghans have - and I'll quote - broken the shackles of slavery. Explain why, from Pakistan's perspective, a Taliban government is something to celebrate.

KHAN: Honestly, I think that it's always good to do the so-called source test when it comes to news reports about Pakistan. And in this case, like many other cases, this incident report is clearly sourced from India.

KELLY: Are you denying he said that? I'm looking at the report. It was from a speech he just gave in Islamabad.

KHAN: No, nobody is celebrating anyone's victory, you know. And we really don't think...

KELLY: Forgive me. I just - I need to push you on here. His special assistant, the special assistant to the prime minister, has been tweeting, saying, Afghanistan is witnessing a virtually smooth shifting of power from the corrupt Ghani government to the Taliban. That's not celebrating?

KHAN: You know, I mean, Pakistan is also a free, open and democratic society where people are saying what they are saying. But, you know, if you are talking about the position of the government of Pakistan, look at the statement that was issued after the National Security Committee meeting. That is what is the authentic position. Now, in that particular instance where this shackles - breaking the shackles, Mary Louise, that context was basically the launch of our national curriculum. And the prime minister said that in a completely different context. And that has nothing to do with the situation in Afghanistan.

KELLY: Your country, of course, has longstanding links with the Taliban. And without going into the history of this, I am wondering what kind of pressure Pakistan is prepared to apply now to push for human rights, to push for women's rights going forward in Afghanistan.

KHAN: Really, I think - and that's a very important point that you have touched upon. And the events of the past few weeks have not changed anything when it comes to Afghanistan being a complete convergence between the United States and Pakistan. You know, U.S. wants to avert a civil war because it will hurt everyone. U.S. is promoting an inclusive settlement to bring peace to Afghanistan, and Pakistan is an integral part of those efforts also.

KELLY: How does that work if the Taliban is not inclined to be inclusive?

KHAN: I think that's a proposition that got to be tested. And really, I think, frankly, we really don't have too many options. Our leverage over them has only gone down with there being a date of withdrawal on the calendar, you know, with them gaining more and more ground in Afghanistan. But I think that also what we are seeing and hearing from the ground is that, so far, they seem to be listening to the concerns and fears of the international community.

KELLY: And you will have seen the United Nations and others are already saying that's great, these promises, but we need to see action.

KHAN: I think international community is going to hold them to the promises that they have made in the negotiation processes. So obviously, I don't know and I have no means to read their mind, but we will go by the signs that we see. And so far, there is some limited room for optimism.

KELLY: The last point to raise with you, Ambassador, is the U.S.-Pakistan relationship because these developments, of course, also mark a turning point in that relationship, the end of these 20 years of a huge military footprint from the U.S. in your part of the world. How does Pakistan see that relationship? What kind of support are you asking for from the U.S. now?

KHAN: Oh, we - for us, this has been and this will continue to be a very important relationship, you know, on its own merit, you know. And the unfortunate part was that because of Afghanistan for the past 20 years, this was only seen to the Afghan (unintelligible), you know. And we are hopeful. We should be able to work in creating a much broader-based standalone relationship.

KELLY: And what about the security relationship? There have been suggestions, as you know, of U.S. bases - now that there are no U.S. bases in Afghanistan, would Pakistan allow any kind of U.S. presence like that?

KHAN: Again, I think this is something that the prime minister has really made it very clear. But cooperation has been an important part of our bilateral relationships. And we will continue to work with the United States and other members of the international community to address any threats that are coming out in the region.

KELLY: Pakistan's ambassador to the U.S., Asad Majeed Khan.

Ambassador Khan, thank you.

KHAN: Thank you, Mary Louise. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.