Pakistan's crossroads

BENAZIR BHUTTO's election victory in Pakistan is remarkable not only for what it says about her courage, but for what it says about Pakistan's readiness to progress as a nation. What remains to be seen is the degree to which her courage is matched by the integrity, political acumen, and the vision needed to carry Pakistan beyond military rule toward its version of democracy.

Likewise, Pakistanis' readiness for democracy must be matched by a willingness to be patient as a more representative form of government takes root. It is an evolutionary process; the political tensions that arise between the party or coalition in office and those out of office will be useful only as long as they don't degenerate into political violence, as has been the case in the past. This would only prompt the military to take control of the country yet again.

Ms. Bhutto's political odyssey - the execution of her father, Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1977 at the hands of the late Gen. Zia ul-Haq's government, her own imprisonment by that same government, and a period of self-imposed exile - reached its latest chapter last week. Her party captured 92 seats out of 215 up for election to the lower house of the country's parliament. Although at press time she had not been formally asked to form a new government, her party's clear plurality entitles her to do so, and talks were under way to establish a majority coalition.

Whatever its final makeup, the new government faces some intriguing opportunities. Among them:

1.To put the brakes on and allow more openness regarding the country's nuclear program. This would improve relations not only with the United States, which is deeply concerned about nuclear weapons in the region, but also with India. Pakistan's need for a nuclear deterrent is doubtful - as is India's.

2.To help speed a resolution to the Afghanistan crisis. The Soviets appear to be trying to establish direct contact with guerrilla commanders inside Afghanistan. Pakistan's current government is trying to build support for a guerrilla proposal that would include members of the current Afghan government in the planning process for a new regime. The logic of events is forcing interests that once rejected direct discussions to talk to each other. A new Pakistani government could take the initiative in expanding on these overtures to help bring peace to Afghanistan.

3.To encourage expansion of democracy in Pakistan. This means rooting out corruption. It also means improving education and literacy, a Bhutto goal. A more stable democratic regime, in turn, will help attract foreign investment, which can help Pakistan meet its economic and social goals.

Bhutto will be watched closely; memories of the divisive years of her father's tenure as prime minister haven't faded, nor have the echoes of her own radical political rhetoric, which she toned down after Zia's recent death.

We wish her well.

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