After Musharraf

Our view: U.S. needs a strong ally in Islamabad

August 19, 2008

Restive Democratic forces in Pakistan have finally pushed President Pervez Musharraf from office. He decided to resign without kicking up a fuss, despite earlier indications that he would fight to remain in office. Instead, the former army chief, who came to power in a 1999 coup, rightly recognized that resignation was a better end than impeachment. But the course of Pakistan's future - and its role in America's fight against al-Qaida forces - is less certain.

The United States needs a strong ally in Islamabad, but Pakistan's coalition government is more attuned to the interests of the Pakistani people than Mr. Musharraf had been, and anti-U.S. sentiment is high in parts of the country. U.S. policy needs to reflect the strategic importance of this nuclear power, while recognizing the challenges that the Pakistani government faces as Mr. Musharraf finally steps down.

Problems began for Mr. Musharraf last year. His continued refusal to give up his dual role as head of the military and president and his delay in implementing democratic reforms angered Pakistan's professional class and other democratic supporters who increasingly criticized his rule. In February's parliamentary elections, Mr. Musharraf's party lost to two key opposition parties that now lead the coalition government. His future has been in doubt ever since.

But Mr. Musharraf was President Bush's close ally. The administration relied on Mr. Musharraf to lead the charge against Islamic terrorists and Taliban supporters who took refuge in the remote mountainous region between Afghanistan and Pakistan. The U.S. paid mightily for the support - more than $10 billion in aid since the 9/11 attacks. But congressional auditors found that the U.S. didn't get what it paid for and that Pakistan's intelligence services maintained close ties with insurgents, rather than capturing them.

The next administration needs to cultivate a more transparent relationship with the Pakistani leadership. U.S. aid should be used to help guide the war on terror, but also to improve social conditions for Pakistanis. The relationship can't hinge solely on personalities.

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