Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf announced today that he would resign Monday, ending his nearly nine years of rule. Musharraf’s exit from Pakistani politics is a an extremely positive development for the future of democracy in Pakistan and for U.S. security. Earlier this year, Heritage senior research fellow Lisa Curtis detailed the benefits of a Musharraf exit:

Musharraf’s fate and the future direction of Pakistan is largely in the hands of the Chief of Army Staff General [Ashfaq] Kayan. Kiyani helped to ensure the February elections were successful and appears committed to keeping the army out of politics. Given the myriad pressures facing Pakistan, however, he may decide to support dissolution of the new parliament and the reassertion of army control over the government. This would be a highly unpopular move with the Pakistani public and would likely result in potentially violent street protests.

An alternative scenario would be for General Kiyani to prevail on Musharraf to make a graceful exit that would allow for the installation of a new president that would be less likely to cause friction within the system and would allow the army to remain outside the political fray. The army’s full attention should be on the real threat to the country’s future: the advance of Taliban militants along the border with Afghanistan and in some of the settled areas of the Northwest Frontier Province. Clashes between the Pakistani military and pro-Taliban militants in the Swat Valley over the last week have reportedly resulted in more than one hundred casualties. The Taliban leadership has threatened to resume bombings throughout Pakistan if the military operation in the Swat Valley continues.

Pakistan’s internal political turmoil provides the country an opportunity to make changes within the system that can improve Pakistan’s regional relationships and remove international doubts about Pakistan’s role in the war on terrorism. Pakistan would find support and patience from the U.S. and neighboring countries if it chose a path of stability and prosperity for the region. Such a decision would require a degree of introspection and examination of its traditional perceptions of its own security interests that has so far eluded the Pakistani security establishment. The U.S. can help Pakistan choose the right path by demonstrating its interest in playing the role of an honest peace broker in the region and encouraging regional confidence building measures among Pakistanis, Afghans, and Indians, including economic cooperation and joint border security efforts that bring the three countries together to fight their number one common enemy—terrorism.