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Afer Musharraf, a new U.S. role

Helping rebuild the fragile Pakistani democracy is the best antiterror plan for the US.

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In the seven years since Sept. 11, President Bush has relied heavily on dictators in Muslim nations to keep a lid on Al Qaeda. It was a quick and easy way to prevent another attack on his watch. But with Monday's resignation of Pakistani leader Pervez Musharraf, Mr. Bush must now deal with an angry democracy in a land that still harbors Al Qaeda.

Mr. Musharraf, a former Army chief of staff, tried not to be too dictatorial after overthrowing an elected leader in 1999 and arranging for himself to be president. But even though he built a thriving economy and was never seen as corrupt, he was forced to legitimize his rule by increasingly harsh measures. His mistakes created a backlash leading to parliamentary elections in February, then a threat of impeachment from a new anti-Musharaff government, and finally his forced resignation.

It was the best way for this US ally to go.

He was forced out by civilians using a constitution, with a nod of approval from an army that seems to prefer staying out of politics for now, and with probable mediation by Saudi Arabia and the United States.

What happens to Musharraf in private life, and who will replace him as elected president, will absorb Pakistani politics for a while. In the meantime, a lame-duck Bush administration must decide where to put its money and trust in Pakistan's splintered elected leadership and in an army still riddled with sympathizers for Islamic radicals but receiving US military aid to suppress the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

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