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Looking Past Musharraf in Pakistan

The victory of pro-democracy opposition parties over Pervez Musharraf's military government is the first step in a long journey toward civilian rule
Opposition leaders: former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (left) and Pakistan People's Party leader Asif Ali Zardari.
Opposition leaders: former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (left) and Pakistan People's Party leader Asif Ali Zardari. Getty Images

The inevitable happened in Pakistan on Feb. 18. Pro-democracy opposition parties won a big election victory and voters declared hugely unpopular President Pervez Musharraf a dud. The two winners, the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), won the majority of the votes—155 of the 272 contested seats in Pakistan's National Assembly—and are now in talks to form a coalition government.

The opposition's win is the first step in a long and possibly tortuous journey to normal civilian rule for Pakistan, the nuclear-armed country where Osama bin Laden is probably now in hiding. Years of military rule have entrenched the Pakistani military, with army officers heading everything from education to sports to business and even some cultural institutions. And the U.S., Pakistan's chief sponsor, has made a habit of interfering in Pakistan's internal politics, critics say, creating an economic and political vassal. Pakistan's challenge, says Bhanu Pratap Mehta, president of New Delhi think tank the Center for Policy Research, is the "demilitarization, de-Talibanization, and de-Americanization of themselves."