U.S. Policy Shifts Can Encourage Dawn of New Era in Pakistan

U.S. Policy Shifts Can Encourage Dawn of New Era in Pakistan

The results of Pakistan's parliamentary elections provide a genuine opportunity for Pakistan and the United States to rebalance their relationship. For Pakistan, they are a chance to re-establish representative government. For the United States, they are a chance to demonstrate support for Pakistan's democratic institutions. And for both countries, they are an opportunity to initiate a much healthier long-term relationship.

Despite his recent appeals to European and American audiences for support, the Musharraf era is over. President Pervez Musharraf once could claim to rule Pakistan with the support of the public, the Army and the Americans, but not anymore. His deliberate repression of political and judicial opposition and his reluctance to yield power destroyed any sympathy among the Pakistani public. The new chief of the Army, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kiyani, has restricted Musharraf's access to the officer corps and, in the weeks before the elections, the Pakistan Ex-Serviceman's Society twice called for him to step down as president.

Unfortunately, U.S. policy in recent years has focused on individuals -- like Musharraf and Benazir Bhutto -- instead of institutions. Now, in the aftermath of Bhutto's assassination and Musharraf's repudiation at the polls, U.S. policy is in tatters. On the one hand, American policymakers feared an imminent Islamist takeover of Pakistan, so they turned a blind eye to crackdowns on the country's free institutions. On the other hand, those same policymakers understood the long-term importance of Pakistan's civil institutions, so they demanded free and fair elections. The contradiction is obvious.

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