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A new PM for Pakistan

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Robin Lustig | 00:14 UK time, Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Is Yusuf Raza Gillani the man to open a new chapter in Pakistan's turbulent political history? Even more intriguingly, could he be the man to gently shunt President Pervez Musharraf into retirement?

It's just possible that the answer to both questions is Yes.

Yesterday was, by any standards, a remarkable day in Pakistani politics. After a parliamentary election last month which went unexpectedly smoothly (by Pakistani standards, anyway), and resulted in an unexpected defeat for Musharraf, Monday saw an overwhelming victory for the man chosen by Benazir Bhutto's PPP and Nawaz Sharif's Muslim League as their candidate for Prime Minister.

And what did he do? He immediately ordered the release of all the judges who'd been placed under house arrest last November by Musharraf. What's more, his orders were immediately carried out. I spoke to one of the most senior of the judges, Khalil ur-Rehman Ramday, last night: when I asked him "Are you a free man?", he replied: "So it would seem." "It's too good to be true," he said. "But it is true."

So where does this leave Musharraf? On his own, and virtually powerless. Was this the game plan all along? Who insisted he must hang up his army uniform? Who also insisted that he must go ahead with promised parliamentary elections, even after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto? Did his friends in Washington and London know that this is how it would end up?

The fervent hope in Whitehall now seems to be that he will fade gently into the night. A retirement home already awaits him, I'm told, and he's being encouraged to accept the end of his political career with as much dignity as he can muster.

But don't start celebrating just yet. The coalition partners in government are not natural bed-fellows, and there are plenty of people (jihadi Islamists and recalcitrant army generals, for example) who would dearly love them to fail. Pakistan's recent history is not littered with success stories, so it would be wise to wait a while before passing judgement. But at the very least, I would suggest that yesterday offered just a glimpse of a better future for a people who surely deserve one.

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