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How a suicide bombing in Pakistan shows spillover effect from Taliban's Afghanistan

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

Funeral services were held today in Pakistan, which is reeling from a suicide bombing on Sunday that left 50 dead and hundreds more injured. The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attack. It targeted a rally for a Pakistani political party called JUI-F.

ASFANDYAR MIR: JUI-F has been an ally to the Taliban.

PFEIFFER: Asfandyar Mir specializes in South Asia and counterterrorism for the United States Institute of Peace. He says the attack was probably motivated by JUI-F's alignment with the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan.

MIR: There are reports that some members of JUI-F have, in fact, directly supported the Taliban's campaign against the Islamic State across the borders.

PFEIFFER: I spoke with Mir earlier today, and he said Pakistan's growing violence and instability are linked to the Taliban's takeover of Afghanistan in 2021.

MIR: I think before the Taliban's takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021, relative peace and calm had been restored to Pakistan. There was much less insecurity in the country. But we've seen a steady rise since the Taliban's takeover. Anti-Pakistan militants have found haven in Afghanistan, and they have been carrying out cross-border attacks. This attack, however, has been carried out by a group that the Taliban seek to fight - Islamic State Khorasan Province, which has claimed this attack. Look. These groups are trying to carve out space for themselves. So put simply, competition among militants is also contributing to this escalation that we see.

PFEIFFER: And it is a sad, terrible example of how one country being destabilized can destabilize other countries around it.

MIR: Right. That was a concern in the lead-up to the Taliban's takeover and the U.S. withdrawal from the region. And what we're seeing is that the first country to be affected by the insecurity that is sort of emanating from Taliban's Afghanistan is, in fact, Pakistan.

PFEIFFER: There is also an election in Pakistan this fall. Any possible connection between the election and the campaigns and the suicide bombing?

MIR: I think that's a possibility as well. JUI-F is one of the political parties, the religious political parties that have actively participated in elections. But in general, with the election season now looming in Pakistan, I'd say this attack - there a significant concerns that we might see more violence against political parties, not limited just to JUI-F.

PFEIFFER: How would you describe the overall political environment now in Pakistan? And then do you think that this bombing could have any impact on the political atmosphere?

MIR: So Pakistan has been reeling from multiple crises this past year. There's been a major economic problem. Pakistan has been teetering on the cusp of a financial default. It barely averted that by signing an agreement with the IMF. There have been political challenges. There's a lot of political polarization. And then, of course, this terrorism problem, which has been surging. So, you know, this attack increases the stakes of all of these crises because there is a concern that all these crises could come to fuse with one another and metastasize into something much bigger, more troubling, both for the country and its people, as well as for the broader region and the world.

PFEIFFER: Asfandyar Mir is with the United States Institute of Peace. Thank you very much.

MIR: Thanks for having me on. 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.

Michael Levitt
Michael Levitt is a news assistant for All Things Considered who is based in Atlanta, Georgia. He graduated from UCLA with a B.A. in Political Science. Before coming to NPR, Levitt worked in the solar energy industry and for the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington, D.C. He has also travelled extensively in the Middle East and speaks Arabic.
Sacha Pfeiffer is a correspondent for NPR's Investigations team and an occasional guest host for some of NPR's national shows.