PROVO — It's hard to predict the future of Pakistan, given the unstable nature of the region, but the country must not be ignored, experts said Thursday.

"I think they are our biggest foreign policy problem," said Stephen Cohen, a senior fellow in the Foreign Policy Studies Program of the Brookings Institution in Washington D.C. "Bigger than Iraq, bigger than Afghanistan. And unless we get our act together in Pakistan … I think we're going to have a huge catastrophe in the case of Afghanistan. Solving Afghanistan is part of solving Pakistan."

Cohen was one of several experts and officials who spoke Thursday during a Brigham Young University Symposium on the Challenge of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Cohen outlined four areas of failure in Pakistan, beginning with a mismanaged economy with little to no exports.

Secondly, the country's Islamic sects have been in open warfare for at least 15 years, with opposing groups receiving support from Iran and Saudi Arabia, Cohen explained.

There is also ethical and regional separatism, with conflicting minority and majority groups and an unbalance between the civilians and the military power.

Trying to help establish a government in that culture will be difficult, but even if it doesn't look like the familiar Jeffersonian democracy, many of its principles are universal, others said.

"The elements of a democracy — accountability, transparency, effectiveness and so on — are critical ingredients for how a long-term resolution will be found in both Pakistan and Afghanistan," said Gerald Hyman, senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

And getting to that point requires improved diplomacy and communication, said John Hughes, former editor of the Deseret News as well as a former U.S. assistant secretary of state and an assistant secretary-general of the United Nations.

"Our public diplomacy in this country is in serious disarray," Hughes said. "I think we need to give some serious consideration as to what has to happen."

Hughes explained how terrorists in Afghanistan have mastered the use of television and social-networking Internet sites to promote their violent agendas.

"More than half the battle is taking place in the battleground of media," he said. "It's a media race for hearts and minds."

Hughes recalled the vital role of radio, with examples of Voice of America and Radio Free Europe, in promoting democratic values, and called for a renewed focus on communication and diplomacy.