Pakistan's peaceful transition a positive sign

The New York TimesSeptember 11, 2013 

The following editorial appeared in The New York Times:

During most of his five years as Pakistan’s president, Asif Ali Zardari was so embattled that there were constant rumors that he would be killed, jailed or ousted in a military coup. On Sunday, he left office after a formal lunch hosted by his political rivals. This was the first time that an elected Pakistani president had completed his term; most others were overthrown or forced to resign. It was a remarkable development in a fragile nation not known for peaceful transitions. On Monday, Mamnoon Hussain, an obscure 73-year-old political figure, was sworn in as his successor.

This was all seen as a hopeful if unexpected sign that democratic institutions may be taking hold. Zardari, elected president after his wife, Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister, was assassinated, was controversial. Senior judges tried to unseat him through corruption prosecutions; generals spread rumors of possible coups; the news media and the public criticized him incessantly; the Taliban vowed to kill him. But he confounded critics by surviving. He also strengthened democracy by moderating the powers of his own office and the confrontational tone of politics in general.

Pakistan remains a dangerous country. It is threatened by a virulent insurgency, it has the world’s fastest-growing nuclear weapons program and its economy is in dire shape. Relations with the United States have grown so distrustful that the Obama administration has reportedly stepped up its surveillance of Pakistan’s nuclear program, raised concerns about biological and chemical sites and questioned the loyalties of counterterrorism sources recruited by the CIA.

It is vitally important that Hussain, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the military, headed by Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, work together to strengthen democratic processes. Kayani, probably the most powerful man in the country, should step down as planned in November and be replaced by someone who will continue to decrease the army role in politics.

Now that Pakistan has secured a $6.6 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund, the government should make the reforms needed to get the country on a sound financial footing. That has to include making sure that Pakistan’s wealthy elite pay income taxes, and, if Pakistani leaders are smart, will also include shutting down a nuclear weapons program that wastes billions of dollars better spent on social programs like education.

The peaceful transition from Zardari to Hussain gives Pakistan a marker on which to build.

The New York Times

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