The address was followed by a question and answer session conducted by Stanford Professor Scott Sagan. First, Sagan posed a number of questions dealing with nuclear terrorism; A.Q. Khan, the Pakistani scientist who allegedly sold nuclear secrets/technology to Libya, Iran, and North Korea; and Mumbai arrests. Then, the audience’s interrogation got off to a resounding start when a man of Indian descent reeled off at least 10 examples of alleged unlawful activity by the Pakistani government. When finally asked “Why should we believe anything you said?” President Musharraf assured the audience that, with sufficient time, he could deal with each individual accusation. Many spectators responded with calls for Musharraf to do just that.
While detractors were undoubtedly in the majority, many supporters were in attendance as well, applauding President Musharraf’s pleas for international support and for peace. The audience’s questions, however, almost unanimously attacked the policies of Musharraf’s regime. Indian criticism was so overwhelmingly apparent that President Musharraf spent his final few minutes on stage addressing the issue. “The people of India want war, but the people of Pakistan do not want war,” he asserted. Capturing the sentiments of his country, Musharraf further remarked, “India is a strong country…, but don’t put it down our throats.”
Frankness was apparently the theme of the event, as Sagan and nearly every participant placed in front of microphone mentioned the frankness with which he or she spoke or the frankness with which he or she expected Musharraf to answer. President Musharraf, after entering and saluting the crowd, even commented, “[I will] make an effort to talk to you very frankly.” Unfortunately, frankness in no way characterized the former President’s responses; rather, he often eluded questions, particularly those regarding secret prisons, conflict in Kashmir, and arrests of suspects of the terrorist attacks in Mumbai.
During his address, Musharraf offered his thoughts on how the world and his country could overcome the threat of terrorism, which he referred to as the “most serious challenge facing the world since the Cold War.” President Musharraf constantly referred back to a “holistic approach,” which included military, political, and socioeconomic responses. Emphasizing the root causes of both terrorism and extremism, Musharraf discussed the roles that illiteracy, poverty, and political alienation play in fertilizing terrorist recruitment. Ultimately, the former President reserved his strongest language for the military, arguing, “Military is essential. Force is essential…. The best language is the language of force.”
Musharraf also addressed forces in the world currently opposing Pakistan, remaking, “[There are] lobbies working powerfully against Pakistan,” Musharraf remarked, “I won’t name them.” President Musharraf urged the audience to “not join in the massive propaganda of Pakistan bashing.” When asked about his refusal to allow international agencies to interrogate A.Q. Khan, Musharraf accused the world of “[showing] a lack of trust in Pakistan.”
At times, the former President had harsh words about the West and its policy towards the Middle East. He criticized the United States’ “distorted view of the cause of terrorism…conceptualized by those who talk of ‘clash of civilizations.’” “I think that they’re absolutely wrong,” he concluded. He disparaged the developed world for failing to commit 0.7% of its GDP to developing nations and for refusing to reduce domestic subsidies. Musharraf also blamed “leaders of developed countries” for failing to “stop corruption,” which, he claims, they could have done by providing regulation for nations in the developing world. In discussing the modern history of his country, the former President condemned the West for its treatment of Pakistan in the aftermath of the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan. He remarked that what followed were “twelve years of disaster after we were used [by the West] for ten years.” After asking “What did we get?”, Musharraf emphatically replied, “Ladies and gentlemen—nothing!”
In the end, however, President Musharraf looked beyond the past and into the future, calling for cooperation between the United States and Pakistan, and emphasizing that “we are together on the strategy—we want to eliminate al Qaeda. We want to eliminate extremism.” “In conclusion,” he remarked, “with all my authority, whatever I have now, we are together in the fight against terror. Let there be no doubt about it.” Musharraf’s final worlds were among his most gracious. He asked the audience, the United States, and the world: “Please support us. Please understand our problems. And please encourage us.”