Middle East Institute Honors Aitzaz Ahsan for "Courage in Defending the Rule of Law in Pakistan"

MEI Podcast
Aitzaz Ahsan receives MEI award for "Courage in Defending the Rule of Law in Pakistan", November 21, 2008

To hear the podcast, click here

For comments Aitzaz made on the occasion, click here

Also See:Obama should not destabilise Pakistan: experts
The News, November 22, 2008

WASHINGTON: President-elect Barack Obama should break with the flawed “war on terror” policy of the Bush Administration and devise a regional, realistic strategy on Afghanistan with clarity of objectives, ensuring that it will not destabilise Pakistan, leading Pakistani experts said on Friday.

“Any new strategy aimed at stabilising Afghanistan should not be at the cost of destabilising Pakistan,” Dr Maleeha Lodhi, former Pakistani ambassador to the United States, told a gathering of diplomats and experts.

Pakistan, she emphasised, should not be viewed as hired help but as a valued ally. She warned that the United States’ increasingly aggressive actions in the form of unilateral actions are undermining the elected Pakistani government’s efforts to forge a national consensus on fighting terrorism. Speaking at the annual conference of the Middle East Institute at the Washington’s National Press Club, Lodhi, who is currently a fellow at Harvard University, said in the aftermath of 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Bush Administration launched a war without clearly defined strategic objectives and the war began to look like a revenge for the attacks on the United States.

As a result of spate of missteps by the United States, Pakistan today is faced with unprecedented challenges and Afghanistan and Pakistan are confronted with a growing insurgency. “So return to basics — a more realistic approach has to be evolved with clarity of objective: what is vital eliminating the haven - and what is desirable “ promotion of democracy,” she suggested, while also urging the formulation of an exit strategy from Afghanistan.

The experts underscored the importance of a regional approach, including Iran and resolution of Pakistan-India tension over Kashmir, so that Pakistan can fully focus on containing militancy. They also noted that the roots of insurgency lie in ungoverned Afghanistan and making Pakistan a scapegoat will not help. The Pakistani experts informed the conference that the country has lost about 15,000 lives to violence, including the Army and police personnel.

The economic cost to Pakistan has been a staggering $34 billion loss in the last seven years in the form of lost investment opportunities. This year alone Pakistan has lost $ 8.5 billion dollars. Earlier, Supreme Court advocate Aitzaz Ahsan, who spoke as keynote speaker, pointed out that it is a mistake to equate terror with the Middle East or Islam.

Pakistan, he said, wants to have good ties with Afghanistan and help it in overcoming the challenges of violent militancy. Pakistan has taken several steps, including deployment of thousands of troops to check the cross-border movement by militants, he reminded. He said Islamabad has offered to fence the inhospitable Afghan-Pakistan border but said containing the movement on the porous border is an extremely difficult task, much more difficult than controlling the US-Mexico border.

At the same time, he identified the Afghan government’s inability to have the writ of the government beyond Kabul as the main reason behind unrest in Afghanistan. He said Afghan accusations against Pakistan are meant to make Pakistan a scapegoat.

Aitzaz said democracy having sovereign parliament and independent judiciary is critical to successfully prosecuting the fight against terrorism. Shujah Nawaz, author of Crossed-Swords, said Afghanistan has not shown willingness to address the Taliban grievances and asked the incoming Obama Administration to explore the path of engagement and not seek capitulation. “The focus should move from purely a military angle to civilian to change the direction of engagement—- I hope the new administration will take into account all these aspects,” he said, underscoring the need to move away from reliance on individuals to broader engagement with the people. He echoed Islamabad’s complaint that it has not been equipped with necessary security tools like night vision goggles or helicopters to fight the insurgents more effectively and hope the next administration will pay attention to neglected aspects. US expert Steve Cole and other participants also agreed that the narcotics trade is fuelling the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan


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