I am both shocked and jubilant. In the days leading to Pakistan's parliamentary elections, I assumed (like many Pakistanis, apparently) that President Musharraf's military and political allies would successfully rig the parliamentary elections to help him stay in power. But, for some reason or another, he didn't. Perhaps he was looking to simply survive (he has even more angry militant enemies than Bhutto did), or maybe he simply has spent the last 8 years doing what he thought was right, even if, from here, his actions looked like purely personal power-grabbing. But Musharraf has shocked me (and others) in letting the elections happen in what international observers have said was accurate and fair.
In this election, 242 seats were up for contest. Of these, early returns show the Pakistan People's Party (ala Bhutto) winning ~80, Pakistan Muslim League-N (ala Sharif) winning ~66, and Pakistan Muslim League-Q (ala Musharraf) winning only 38. The outcome is promising--past Pakistani opposition has traditionally been dominated by highly religious parties, but the People's Party is secularist, and Muslim League-N is a moderate group with highly competent leadership.
People's Party and Muslim League-N have been in coalition talks for months, and are in them again already. Should such a coalition emerge, they could theoretically run a government without any other parties involved (particularly, the Muslim League-Q). They'd also be able to impeach Musharraf if their members voted in force, and I believe they are likely to do so. While Ms. Bhutto had been willing to work with Musharraf, Sharif was so opposed to the idea that he was threatening parliamentary boycott. With Ms. Bhutto dead (and her son leading her party), Sharif emerged as the single most experienced and respected politician in Pakistan, and is likely to have a great deal of influence over the People's Party's leadership. Furthermore, the coalition would have a large enough parliamentary majority that they would have no need to hold on to Mr. Musharraf, unless he can propose to them some sort of favors that a replacement president would not be able to provide. But for the most part, he is at the mercy of the new coalition.
Interestingly, these results may show that Al-Qaeda militancy in the northwest may have gained them local ground, but it has still created vast secular and moderate cohesion against them in the rest of Pakistan, even among the majority that oppose Musharraf's aggressive anti-militant activities. Pakistan avoided a religious uprising or conservative backlash--they voted out Musharraf's party and replaced it with liberal-secular options, which should long-term be beneficial to the United States, should Bush manage to not screw up the early relationship with the new government. Remember that Ms. Bhutto had said that she was willing to work with the United States in the war against Al-Qaeda in the northwest of Pakistan, and her victorious People's Party won by carrying on the bulk of her policy ideas.
New cohesion and better competence in government is going to bring great domestic change to Pakistan, and hopefully, the new government will find a way to finally deal with the northwestern frontier. I am indeed holding my breath; I believe that the Pakistani battleground is at a critical point, and could well fall to the United States' primary enemy. On the other hand, should the new government succeed in rooting out Al-Qaeda, the citizens of the United States will be safer than they have been since the early 1990's. Furthermore, if Al-Qaeda falls, restoring Afghanistan to order will become a possibility in the medium-term future. Karachi's government is in need of relief from militants; they are making gains in the business of terror.
So I am full of hope, and apprehension. If this new government cannot solve the Al-Qaeda problem, I do not know who will be able to do so.