Pakistanis defied concerted efforts by al-Qaeda and Taliban-backed extremists to disrupt elections Tuesday, voting Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf’s party out of office. A spokesman from Musharraf’s Pakistan Muslim League-Q (PML-Q) responded, “This is the basic spirit of democracy. We believe the elections were free and fair and everybody must accept the decision for the betterment of Pakistan.”

No party won outright control of the parliament, but the late Benazir Bhutto ‘s Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) made the largest gains. Sharif promised to work with other parties to “rid Pakistan of dictatorship forever.”

In more good news for democracy and modernization, voters in Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) rejected Taliban allies at the ballot box. The secular Pashtun sub-nationalist Awami National Party soundly defeated the Jamaat-i-Ulema-i-Islam which formed the core of the pro-Taliban coalition that won control of the province in 2002. The Jamaat-i-Ulema-i-Islam came to power on the basis of anti-American sentiments following the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, but today mostly secular and moderate candidates won at the ballot box.

These elections show that a strong majority of Pakistanis view Musharraf as a source of instability in the country. The U.S. must be seen a staking an impartial view of the elections and should be prepared to work with the new civilian government. It is important that Musharraf come to be viewed as a transitional figure in Pakistan.

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