But Musharraf has refused, and Messrs. Zardari and Sharif are just beginning to try to form a coalition government together – a process that could take days. With only five seats remaining undeclared, the PPP had 88 seats and the PML-N 65 in the 272-seat National Assembly. The Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q), which supports Musharraf, had 37.
Musharraf strikes a cooperative tone
In the few public statements Musharraf has made since the election, he has struck a cooperative tone, suggesting he will work with whoever comes to power. He will have little choice, particularly if the PPP and PML-N succeed in forming a coalition.
"He has no cards to play," says Rasul Baksh Rais, a political scientist at the Lahore University of Management Science. If Musharraf uses his presidential power to defy the new legislature or dissolve it, the political opposition "could shut down Pakistan with one phone call, and he could not control that."
For now, the power shift is making American foreign policy officials scramble. In the long run, however, it could work to America's benefit, experts say.
"Putting together a bilateral relationship that is based on broader institutional ties is healthy, as is having a civilian government in Islamabad," writes Mr. Markey. "Only popular parties can mobilize support for policies that hit at the roots of extremism and militancy."
The remaining question is what will happen to Musharraf. Among those who have come into personal contact with him, there is a sense that he will understand the depth of his current predicament.
"He is an intelligent man. He will know he is not in a position to dictate things," says Mahmood Shah, who helped coordinate Musharraf's policies in the tribal belt as former secretary of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. "Even if he tries to cling to power, it will be very difficult," Mr. Shah continues.