Democracy has not been a roaring success in Pakistan. When Pervez Musharraf seized power from a democratically elected government in a 1999 military coup, there was nearly as much celebration in the streets as there was on Monday when he announced his resignation as president, so corrupt and unpopular were the kleptocrats he unseated.
Yet for all the worries that the country's new democratic leaders will fail as spectacularly as the old ones did, Pakistan and the world have ample reason to cheer Monday's events. Military dictators don't often voluntarily cede power to civilian authorities. And, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, although democracy in Pakistan has proved to be a particularly messy form of government, it still beats all the others that have been tried.
In Washington, the biggest worry following Musharraf's departure concerns Pakistan's cooperation in the war on terrorism, particularly in combating Islamist militants who cross the border to battle U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Yet Musharraf was an unreliable ally at best on that front, and ever since he stepped down as head of Pakistan's army last year, he has been a less important partner in the fight against the Taliban than the new army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani. The latter is seen as an ally with strong ties to the CIA, so U.S. counter-terrorism officials don't foresee changes in the military relationship, at least in the short term.