Pakistan: Will the Third Time as Prime Minister be the Charm for Nawaz Sharif?

Pakistan always has been a good example of being careful for what one wishes when it comes to democracy in Third World nations. The Pakistani people theoretically rule the unstable nuclear state. Whether that actually is positive is not so clear.

In the latest election, Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz won a strong plurality, making him the almost certain prime minister. However, that position may be a poisoned chalice. When he was last premier, for the second time, in 1999, he found himself ousted in a coup, imprisoned for months, and eventually bundled into exile.

Despite the relatively free (though violence-laden) vote, Pakistan’s political, economic, and security problems are enormous. And the dangers of a failed state reach well beyond Pakistan’s borders. As I wrote in my latest Forbes online column:

for those who worry about an Islamic Bomb in Tehran, one already exists in Islamabad. Pakistan has between 90 and 120 warheads, and is producing more plutonium than any other nation on earth. The result likely will be an expanded arsenal. Observed Tom Hundley of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting: “Pakistan could end up in third place, behind Russia and the United States, within a decade.” Yet the contest with India has left Islamabad officials “hobbled by fear, paranoia, and a deep sense of inferiority,” in Hundley’s words. At the same time, Pakistan has increasingly dispersed its warheads to frustrate any U.S. attempt to seize the weapons. The practice increases the possibility of radicals grabbing a warhead or fissile material.

Oh joy.

Although only the Pakistani people can fix their own country, Washington could help. It should wind down the war in Afghanistan, which is a destabilizing force in Pakistan. The U.S. should reduce its use of drones, which have made America hated by Pakistanis. Washington should resist the temptation to dump ever more foreign “aid” into the corrupt and incompetent institution known as the Pakistani government. Finally, Americans should hope—and pray!—that Nawaz Sharif has learned something during his 14 years in the political wilderness.