THE national elections in Pakistan last week were dirty on both sides. The ouster of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in August by a shadow military coalition was not a progressive step for Pakistan. But neither Ms. Bhutto's behavior nor that of her opponents in the military and the right wing Islamic Democratic Alliance was exemplary in this latest national vote. Bhutto was not given a completely fair chance at winning. But that's par for the course in Pakistan. Besides, the scale of Bhutto's defeat far outweighed any countervailing charge of malfeasance. She lost badly.
Yet the former prime minister is a fighter. We hope she can stay in politics. By winning more than 40 seats, she is clearly an opposition threat to the new government. That's a good thing; it makes for lively debate and a healthy civil democracy - something Pakistan is in need of after 43 years of rule by a corrupt lineage of military cronies.
The anti-Bhutto forces are said to be lining up to finish her off. She goes to court Nov. 4 to face charges of corruption in government brought by interim President Ghulam Ishaq Khan. It's a bit like a charge of uncleanliness brought by fellow chimney sweeps, and besides, Bhutto's husband is more the issue than she is. Any attempts to disqualify Bhutto from holding office for seven years, as her opposition would like to do, ought to bring with it diplomatic censure from the world community, including the United States.
New problems on the horizon would indicate a working democracy is needed now more than ever in Pakistan. By November, oil prices in the country will have risen some 26 percent, gravely threatening economic stability in the country. (Forty percent of Pakistan's oil comes from Kuwait and Iraq). The Gulf conflict has also cut off much income from Pakistani workers formerly in Iraq and Kuwait. Ethnic strife in Sindh and the Punjab continues, as does the dispute with India in Kashmir.
Bhutto's opposition also represents moderation on Pakistan's nuclear weapons development program. Hard-liners want to accelerate the program. If the hard-liners persist, Washington should continue to decrease aid to Pakistan.