On June 5, Mian Mohammad Nawaz Sharif made history by being elected as the third-time prime minister of Pakistan after securing 244 votes in the National Assembly. He was sworn in by President Asif Ali Zardari — with General (retd) Pervez Musharraf, who ousted Mr Sharif’s government in 1999, incarcerated just a few miles away in Islamabad. Who would have thought Mr Sharif would be back in parliament once again with a heavy mandate after he was shown the door by the khakis. How times change! This should serve as a reminder to the military establishment that no matter how much you try to keep the civilians away from the political spectrum, the will of the people rules supreme and can make anything happen.
It was a proud moment for all Pakistanis to see a smooth democratic transition take place in a country where this process has come full circle for the first time in six decades. Mr Sharif alluded to this in his 30-minute maiden speech in the National Assembly, praised former National Assembly Speaker Fehmida Mirza and hoped now there would be no more ‘adventurism’ to curtail democracy. One would have thought Mian sahib would mention Shaheed Benazir Bhutto’s huge sacrifices, including her life, for democracy in Pakistan, but he did not. He should not forget that it would not have been possible to see this day without BB’s endless struggle for democracy. Her party, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), might not have done well in these elections but BB’s name and memory will forever live on in our history as the saviour of democracy and a woman of substance. There is no other like BB in this world nor would there ever be and the people of Pakistan must never forget that.
It may be clichéd to say that there are numerous challenges facing Pakistan but it is a sad reality that we have to live with every day. Terrorism, religious extremism, sectarianism, intolerance, energy crises, economic difficulties, civil-military relations and a plethora of other challenges lie ahead for the new government. Mr Sharif did not mention terrorism in his speech but he cannot shy away from it. So far his party’s stance on terrorism has been vague but ambiguity is not an option anymore. If he focuses all his efforts on just reviving the economy and does not tackle terrorism, nothing much will improve. Now that he is in power, Mr Sharif will have to take some tough decisions in order to deal with the hydra of terrorism or else deal with abject failure. Pakistan is at a crossroads now. With a stable democratic dispensation in place, it can either go in the right direction by taking on the challenges ahead and strengthening the democratic process or it can go the wrong way and allow undemocratic forces to take charge once again. As long as we have democracy, at least the people can make our rulers answerable. Without democracy, the real losers are the people of Pakistan. We cannot afford democracy to fail — not now, not ever.
The writer is a Pakistani journalist. Reach her at email@example.com