Today, Pakistan is in much better shape. The economy is on a surer footing, peace talks with India are under way, and every week seems to bring news of another group of terrorists being captured or killed. Indeed, not since the end of the 1980s, when democracy was restored to Pakistan after the dark years of General Zia ul-Haq's dictatorship, can I remember feeling so hopeful about Pakistan's future. Progress is taking place throughout society. Colleges and universities are opening at a record rate; and tens of thousands of primary school teachers are being hired. More than a dozen new private television channels and radio stations are beaming lively political debate, frequently risqué lifestyle and fashion programs, and an exploding local music scene into homes across the country. Foreign companies are investing hundreds of millions of dollars to pursue the opportunities of a market that in population terms is the world's sixth largest.
Much of the credit is due to external events: American pressure and assistance, international debt rescheduling, the flow of capital from Pakistanis abroad back into the country. And much of the credit belongs to Musharraf and to his economic team, led by ex-Citibanker Shaukat Aziz. But as the crisis that once engulfed Pakistan recedes, many of us are beginning to ask, "What now?"
Clearly, a system based on the decisions, and survival, of Musharraf—an unelected leader who has been the target of several assassination attempts—is undesirable. The state of Pakistan remains fragile because of regular terrorist attacks, insurgencies in the province of Baluchistan and in the tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan, rising inflation, and too few new jobs for the poor. Pakistan must gradually make the transition from relatively successful crisis management under Musharraf to sustainable progress under a democracy.
No dictator in Pakistan's history has ever facilitated such a transition. But it can and must be done. After winning his seat in the National Assembly through a by-election held last week, Aziz, who is currently Finance Minister, is now poised to become Pakistan's Prime Minister. If Musharraf is prepared to step into the background and allow Aziz to govern the country, and if Aziz views his premiership as a time to resuscitate the conditions for democracy in Pakistan just as he previously helped resuscitate the country's economy—both big ifs—then there may indeed be cause for optimism.
Why would Musharraf allow such a transition of power? Hopefully because he has realized that if he wishes his reforms to outlive him, he needs to empower other leaders to carry them through. And why should Aziz be interested in restoring democracy? Because a good manager must deliver more than steady quarterly earnings. He must also put in place a reliable system of governance to carry that growth forward.
In Pakistan, creating such a system will require Aziz to overcome several important challenges. Above all, Aziz must make a lasting peace with India, even at the cost of painful compromises. Without such a peace, Pakistan will always be ruled, in one form or another, by men in uniform, and the mud-brick curtain we have erected to our east will continue to deny us our largest potential market and source of human and cultural exchange.
Partly to make such a peace possible and partly because of wider international pressure, but mostly because they terrorize us far more than they do our so-called enemies, Aziz must bring to heel the religious militants who claim to kill in our name and in the name of our religion, Islam. In the past, the army has worked hard to create these militants—it will be Aziz's challenge to see that it works equally hard to disband them.
Aziz must also act firmly to restore law and order to Pakistan, ideally starting with the country's largest city and main economic driver, Karachi. This cannot be done merely by deploying troops and paramilitary forces whenever the killing gets out of hand. It will require substantial, long-overdue investment in our courts and police. Otherwise, Pakistan will remain a country that drives its own middle class into exile, and one where officials, elected or not, habitually abuse their powers.
These are daunting challenges, particularly for a Prime Minister with uncertain freedom of action and no previous experience of elected office. We must hope that Musharraf has the vision to allow the birth of a Pakistan that is never again ruled by a general, and that Aziz is given the chance to supervise the delivery.