CAMBRIDGE – Following its recent free elections, Pakistan is rebounding politically. But the euphoria that came with the end of the Musharraf era is wearing off, as the new government faces stark choices.
Unlike Iraq and Afghanistan, democracy is not new to this 60-year-old state, but ethnic cleavages, weak institutions, and religious extremism in the North are perennially destabilizing. And, while the new government settles in and establishes its priorities, the West, especially the United States, must reassess the impact of its past dealings with Pakistan.
Pakistan’s new prime minister, Yousaf Gilani, is a seasoned politician and, more importantly, has Sufi family roots, which is a good omen because of the Sufi tradition of tolerance. Gilani unequivocally declared in his inaugural address that fighting terrorism is a top priority, and his first decision was to release from house arrest judges deposed by Musharraf. The respite from the horrendous spate of suicide bombings since the new government assumed power is similarly heartening.
But the honeymoon period is coming to an end. Already, in Gilani’s hometown of Multan, rioters attacked government offices and banks to protest electricity disruptions. A couple of well-known opposition politicians, a chief minister and a federal cabinet minister of the previous pro-Musharraf government, were publicly thrashed, raising doubts about government control over law and order in the country.