PAKISTANI democracy is again in trouble. For the third time in five years, Pakistan's dictator-President Ghulam Ishaq Khan has replaced a popularly elected prime minister and the government - without holding a referendum, and with the full compliance of his partners in the military. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, dismissed by Mr. Khan on charges of "corruption" after a four-month power struggle, was elected in November 1990. His predecessor, Benazir Bhutto, was dismissed on similar pretexts.
Mr. Sharif earned the respect of the international community for his attempts at political and economic reform. He sold off state enterprises, opened a stock market, attracted World Bank loans, and began moving the centers of Pakistani power away from feudalistic old family networks. Hence, his tenure was stormy - though even Khan went along with Sharif's privatization efforts.
What put Sharif out was what had gotten Ms. Bhutto fired before him: an attempt to change the eighth amendment of the Constitution, written in 1985 by Pakistan's last official dictator, Gen. Mohammed Zia ul-Haq, during a period of martial law. This amendment gives the president power to replace the prime minister and make all key military appointments. Pakistan must move from such arbitrary rule if it is to claim status as a real democracy.
These developments are especially worrisome, given the climate in the region. Strife in disputed Kashmir is almost as bad as in 1990, when Pakistan and India nearly got into a nuclear conflict over it. Any shift from a more liberal civil government to a nationalist military clique is unwelcome in a nuclear state - particularly one that denies having such weapons. The military's role is extensive, but how extensive is unclear. It is possible that Pakistan's Army leaders will heavily influence domestic and
foreign affairs until new elections are held July 14. Khan loyalist, Balkh Sher Mazari, now holds the reins.
Bhutto has not played a noble role in this affair. Seeing Sharif's ouster as a chance to return to power, she went along with it. This isn't worthy of Bhutto.