On Friday, October 31, the first of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies‘ Leading Thinkers Series was held in Washington, D.C. Entitled, “The Pakistan People’s Party’s Counter-Terrorism Strategy,” the speakers included Pakistan Ambassador the U.S., Husain Haqqani, Stephen Cohen, a senior fellow in foreign policy at the D.C.-based think tank, Brookings Institution, and Shuja Nawaz, author of Crossed Swords: Pakistan, Its Army, and the Wars Within. Ambassador Haqqani emphasized in his talk that democracy is more than just a political system, it’s an attitude. He criticized former President Musharraf‘s approach to countering Pakistan’s militants, noting that he “never brought the Pakistani people on board.” This attitude has now changed with the current ruling government, and Haqqani emphasized, “Terrorism is a threat to the way of life of Pakistan, and we need to eliminate it for the sake of Pakistanis …we appreciate U.S. support, but this is our war.” The ambassador discussed the organization of tribal lashkars, noting their creation further shows that this message has trickled down to the Pakistani people. However, he added, their establishment to be followed up by tremendous socio-economic support.
Stephen Cohen reinforced similar points, and ultimately noted, “We [the United States] hopes Pakistan does well but we must enforce and enable policies to make sure it does well.” Shuja Nawaz spoke from more of a military perspective, and noted, “We are on the path to a democracy, but it is a bit too early to proclaim success.” Pakistan not only faces an internal militant threat, but also a deteriorating economic situation. Currently, there is a commitment among the leadership in Pakistan’s military to accept civilian supremacy, he noted. The military recognizes that the country faces many problems. Both the new ISI chief, Gen. Pasha and COAS Gen. Kayani get it and understand that the military must now operate as part of a broader strategy against terror.
Ultimately, the talk was informative, particularly for the Washington D.C./foreign policy crowd that were present. With all of the mounting issues facing Pakistan, the new direction the current government has taken to address the security situation is both notable and important, and it’s significant that FDD made the effort to address that on Friday.