By Nick Winnie
*LAHORE, PAKISTAN*: Pakistan’s highly anticipated parliamentary elections, held Monday in the shadow of Benazir Bhutto’s assassination and growing instability in the country, delivered defeat to the party of President Musharraf and ushered in what many envision to be a more moderate and democratic era of Pakistani politics.
Tuesday’s results handed the majority of parliamentary seats to the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) — the party of the deceased Bhutto — and the Pakistan Muslim League, the two moderate political parties allied in their fierce opposition to the military-run government of Musharraf. The success of moderates was particularly notable in the volatile North West Frontier Province, a region known as a safe haven for al-Qaeda, whose citizens overwhelmingly opposed Islamic religious parties on Monday.
The election, hailed as a democratic success by Pakistani citizens and Western observers, has raised a number of new questions for both Pakistani and American governments. It remains unclear who the PPP will appoint as the country’s new prime minister, what role the Pakistani military will play within this new government, how the country’s new leaders will battle extremism within its borders and what sort of new partnership will emerge between Pakistan and the United States.
*HAVANA, CUBA*: After nearly 50 years of uninterrupted, absolute rule in Cuba, Fidel Castro stepped down Tuesday as the island nation’s president. Castro’s rule — which outlasted the Cold War, spanned the terms of 10 American presidents and withstood such international conflicts as the Bay of Pigs invasion and the Cuban Missile Crisis — finally ended as a result of an ongoing serious illness.
Castro’s announcement on Tuesday received little fanfare from a Cuban populace that has long expected him to step down and be replaced by his 76-year-old brother, Raúl Castro. At the moment, the general consensus in Cuba and among Cuban exiles in the United States seems to be that little will change in Cuba’s near future, as the country’s Parliament is expected to appoint Raul Castro, without general elections, as the next president and continue the policies of his aging brother. Skeptics of this view, including President George W. Bush and many Cuban exiles, argue that the fading away of Cuba’s longtime dictator should begin a new period of transition towards democracy in Cuba.
*KOSOVOP*: Last Sunday, the province of Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia. The tiny, landlocked territory did so on the grounds that Serbia’s inhumane treatment of its ethnic Albanian majority justified secession from the country. The declaration was met with the street celebrations of ethnic Albanians, a fresh wave of violence from nationalist Serbs, and a bitterly divided international community at odds over the question of Kosovo’s new and fragile sovereignty. The U.S. and most of Kosovo’s western allies officially recognized its independence, while Serbia, Russia and other nations refused to acknowledge it. Sunday’s events have raised concerns about the prospect of renewed conflict between the NATO-patrolled region’s ethnic Albanians and its Serbs, while also fueling fears that Kosovo’s example may embolden ethnic separatist movements elsewhere, like those in neighboring Bosnia.