Robert Novak

These changes apparently escaped the U.S. embassy in Islamabad, which on election eve reported to Washington that Musharraf's Pakistan Muslim League-Q would do well enough to force a coalition government. Vote rigging probably cost the opposition 25 seats, mainly in Baluchistan -- not enough to prevent a two-thirds majority by opposition parties that could vote impeachment in the lower house.

Officials of Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party (PPP) say that while Musharraf deserves impeachment, they would not move against him if he showed any humility. But the general has not departed from his habitual arrogance, even at the moment of humiliation.

In "Reconciliation" (concluded shortly before her death), Bhutto was careful to avoid an anti-American posture, but still details Washington's long record of support for Pakistan's military regimes that overturned democratically elected leaders. I must report that my late partner Rowland Evans and I followed that line of reasoning as necessary to enlist Pakistan as an ally against the Soviet Union in the Cold War.

This outlook by government has persisted in the war against Islamist terrorism, though it has been increasingly clear that Musharraf would not vigorously pursue that conflict. I was impressed when I talked to Bhutto in New York last summer to find her committed against the extremists inside Pakistan in a way Musharraf never has been. "The core of my being a Muslim," she wrote in her posthumous memoir, "rejects those using Islam to justify acts of terror to pervert, manipulate and exploit religion, for their own political agenda."

Those sentiments reflect how much Benazir Bhutto will be missed. Her widower, Asif Ali Zardari, succeeding her as PPP leader, will not take the prime minister's post. Whoever does head the new Pakistani government cannot be counted on to pursue the risky course of closing madrassa schools and fighting al-Qaida in tribal lands that Bhutto promised. No Pakistani expects help from Musharraf, repudiated by the public and not backed by the army now that he has removed his uniform. Only the State Department still takes him seriously.

Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.

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