Opposition leader Benazir Bhutto's victory in Pakistan's parliamentary elections is a repudiation of the legacy of 11 years of iron-fisted rule by President Mohammad Zia ul-Haq.
A key casualty could well be the harsh Islamic rule introduced by Zia, who died in a mysterious plane crash in August. A beneficiary could be the relationship between Pakistan and India, which have fought three wars over the past four decades.The electorate, allowed for the first time since 1977 to vote in an election contested by political parties, left no doubt about its attitude toward Zia's rule. Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party won a plurality, providing her the opportunity, with coalition support, to become the first woman ruler in a Moslem country.
Few of Zia's cohorts were spared. Among the defeated officials of Zia's government were former Prime Minister Mohammad Khan Junejo, Interior Minister Naseem Aheer and National Assembly Speaker Hameed Nasir Chatta.
The last time political parties contested an election, Bhutto's father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, won and became prime minister. He was overthrown in a coup by Zia, then army chief of staff, and hanged in 1979 after being convicted of murder.
"What has worked is anti-Ziaism identified with military rule plus the charisma of
the Bhutto ladies and the martyr image," said one government official. "Pakistanis are pretty emotional."
The Pakistan People's Party is led by Bhutto and her mother, Nusrat.
Zia had ordered strict enforcement of Islamic law, which provides for harsh punishments and restricts lifestyles to that laid down in the Koran, the bible of Islam.
The election result was a repudiation of that policy, which had provoked widespread discontent. The Islamic fundamentalist Jamaat-Islami Party was among the major losers in the election.
The government-backed Islamic Democratic Alliance "stood on the platform of Islam," said a political commentator. "The result is an expression by the electorate that they don't want Islamization."
The government official explained, "The vast majority of the population is not fundamentalist Islamic, like Iran, it's Islamic liberalist."
In most areas, however, Bhutto probably will not make radical shifts in policy, and she seems likely to want to maintain close strong relations with the United States.
"Benazir is a pragmatist," said the commentator. "She accepts U.S. influence as a fact of life. She's also student of international politics and she's seen the decline of socialism around the world."
Bhutto, who was educated at Radcliffe and Oxford, is likely to adopt a more moderate foreign policy aimed at improving ties with Pakistan's arch-rival India and would be less committed to building a nuclear bomb, a source of tension with Washington.
"Relations with India will certainly improve," said the official. "Bhutto and (Indian Prime Minister) Rajiv Gandhi are both young, modern leaders."
Support for guerrillas fighting the Soviet-backed regime in Afghanistan is also bound to continue. More than 3 million Afghan refugees are living in Pakistan and the government has long sought their return as part of a peace settlement.
"It would be very hard for her to change Afghan policy even if she wanted to, because the army would not allow it," said a Western diplomat. "Besides, the bottom line is getting the refugees to return home, and any reduction of support for the guerrillas would hinder that."