What The Pakistani Elections Mean For America

[Patrick Appel]

Joshua Hammer's new article reflects on how the elections in Pakistan might change the Pakistani-American relationship:

Nobody knows what the new political dynamic in Pakistan is going to look like, but it surely won’t offer the one-stop-shopping that the U.S. government has found so convenient. The relationship between an independent Parliament, led by the Pakistan People’s Party, and the military, commanded by Musharraf’s handpicked protégé, General Ashfaq Kayani,  is likely to be messy and confrontational, with constant debates over military strategy in the tribal areas. Kayani, one of many Pakistani generals and brigadiers who studied in the United States, is said to be even more hawkish than Musharraf. By contrast, PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari, Bhutto’s widower and the possible next Prime Minister, favors more negotiation, and, presumably, more cease-fire arrangements such as the controversial one that Musharraf approved in north Waziristan in late 2006. "We will have a dialogue with those who are up in the mountains and those who are not in Parliament," Zardari was quoted in the New York Times as saying. "We want to take all those along who are against Pakistan and working against Pakistan."

So there’s a good chance that Pakistan’s approach to the war on terror will remain as disjointed and ineffectual as it’s been for the last five years. Musharraf was forced to tack back and forth between the demands of his U.S. patrons and a restive populace that accused him of fighting “Washington’s war.” (And of course he may have been sabotaged by pro-extremist elements of the army and the Inter-Services Intelligence).  With Musharraf out of the picture, there’s little indication that much is going to change. Several factorspressure from the religious parties (a shrinking force, as last week’s election results starkly indicated), Pashtuns in the Northwest Frontier Province and autonomous tribal areas, and the many rank-and-file troops and lower-ranking officers who are demoralized by the rising casualty countwill point toward a cautious approach to the war. On the other hand, millions have turned sharply against the extremists in the wake of repeated suicide attacks and Bhutto’s assassination. With the North Waziristan pact and other deals seen as failures that gave militants a free hand, the appetitite among Pakistan’s secular majority for less talk and more action is growing.

Under Musharraf, of course, nobody cared what the civilians had to say: the army ran the show, and Parliament served as a rubber stamp. The new era in Pakistan promises to be dramatically different, with the military and civilian leaderships working together to form a consensus over an issue that has divided both institutions. The process may not change the facts on the groundat least for the short termbut it is sure to invigorate Pakistani society and strengthen the country's stunted democratic institutions. In the end, that may be the best way to defuse the country's Islamic extremist threat.