February 20, 2008
Opposition parties routed allies of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf in this week's national elections, throwing Musharraf’s future into doubt. The biggest winner in the vote was slain former prime minister Benazir Bhutto’s moderate Pakistani People’s Party, followed by the Pakistan Muslim League of ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif; the two parties said they would form a governing coalition in Parliament. Defying expectations, the election was deemed relatively fair and free of violence. (The Christian Science Monitor)
What the commentators said
The election results are “a severe, perhaps fatal, blow,” said Juan Cole in Salon, to the “entire hollow pillar” of Bush’s antiterrorism policy in the region. Thanks to “severe political miscalculations” last year, Bush's ally Musharraf is now left with “a small minority” party in Parliament. And the new government that forms will certainly be “far less amenable” to the “hard-line” policies of “the Bush-Cheney war on terror.”
The vote was a “significant blow” to Musharraf, said The Wall Street Journal in an editorial. But instead of a “repudiation” of Musharraf and Bush, the election is “a vindication of both” men. Musharraf, as promised, held free and fair elections, and he “has accepted the result.” And Bush’s interests always hinged on fostering a “vibrant civil society with its own interests in fighting Islamic extremism,” not in pursuing a “Musharraf policy.”
The results were indeed “much better than the United States could hope for,” said The New York Times in an editorial (free registration), and also more than “Bush deserved after overinvesting in the former general and his anti-democratic excesses.” So what now? Pakistan “faces a period of uncertainty” as all parties “jockey for position,” and Bush should take the opportunity to reach out to the new parliamentary leaders, urge the “coup-prone military” to respect democracy, and persuade Pakistan’s people that the fight against Islamic extremists is more than “just Washington’s fight.”
Try 4 Risk-Free Issues of The Week magazine.