Despite the massive shifts in Pakistan's political landscape, the new government's approach to dealing with Islamic extremists likely will follow the same lines it has since Pervez Musharraf sided with the U.S. after the 9-11 attacks.
The ruling coalition of Musharraf foes, which came to power some five months ago, largely sidelined the president and dabbled in striking peace deals with insurgents, something he also had tried.
The peace effort has met only limited success, and the government is back to relying on military operations in an attempt to beat back the militants.
Still, the U.S. likely will find the new government an even less predictable ally in the war on terror than Musharraf, who announced his resignation Monday in the face of impeachment threats. And his departure could bring about a power struggle and further destabilize the country.
The exit of Musharraf, who resigned as army chief in November, comes as the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan is on the rise and attacks on U.S. and NATO forces there are becoming more sophisticated and deadly.
The U.S. and Afghanistan blame Pakistan in part, saying militants have found safe havens in its border regions and move unmolested over the frontier. They also worry that al-Qaida is regrouping in sanctuaries in Pakistan.
U.S. patience with Pakistan's efforts could diminish further, given that both main U.S. presidential contenders promise to send more troops to Afghanistan.
Defense analyst Ayesha Siddiqa expects the new government to follow the policy essentially set by Musharraf, using dialogue but also force when required to combat Islamic militancy.
“The military will continue to fight and the political government will continue to negotiate. The negotiations have to continue, as it is now an issue of saving Pakistani society from the hands of the Taliban,” she said.
But Ahmed Rashid, a Pakistani journalist and Taliban expert, said the ruling coalition is “far away” from a unified strategy to deal with militancy.
“The government is very unclear,” he said. “It has very fragile public support. It doesn't want to lose that public support by going hard after the militants. But at the same time it knows it must do so.”
Musharraf was a favorite ally of President Bush and was despised by Islamist militants. Still, the U.S. at times criticized Musharraf for not doing enough to stop the militancy.