For about seven years, America’s foreign policy with respect to Pakistan could be summed up in one word: “Musharraf.” There was no backup policy, no alternative, no acceptable substitute. The attempt to facilitate a power-sharing arrangement between Musharraf and Benazair Bhutto came to a crashing halt when Bhutto was assassinated in December.
Well, we’re going to have to find an acceptable substitute to Musharraf, and fast. Bhutto’s son is seen as her political heir, but he is only 20 years old and a college student in the UK; he plans to return to Pakistan but obviously he should complete his studies first (waiting for several years before launching a high-profile political career may be to his long-term advantage anyway).
Naturally, it would be preferable if that substitute were the product of a democratic process. But this is not a necessary element of the leaders who will step up to replace Pervez Musharraf as Pakistan’s President. What is not acceptable is a member of a religious party, a leader who will authorize more than desultory action against India in the ongoing dispute over Kashmir, or a leader who will substantially exclude, restrict, or even prohibit U.S. military actions in Pakistan’s Northwestern Frontier.
Unfortuantely, we may not have a choice in the matter at all. Pakistan is a democratic nation and its people will ultimately pick their own leader. If they vote “wrong,” there is little we can do about it.