The world attention was focussed on the historic General Elections in Pakistan in May 2013, amidst an air of excitement and trepidation, as these signified transfer of civilian power, for the first time in the 67 years of its existence. There were also concerns over Army’s role and fears of likely disruption by the terrorist outfits. The return of General Musharraf to Pakistan, to join the election fray, added an element of drama. So did truancy played by Bilawal Bhutto, leader of the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), through his frequent visits to UAE, symbolically signifying abdication of leadership mantle, well before the elections.
The election process was completed peacefully, with a turnover of over 60 per cent of around 86 million voters, including a significant portion of women and youth voters. The election results were a decisive victory for Nawaz Sharif of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) who secured close to a majority of the seats; a positive development , thereby avoiding political uncertainties of a hung Parliament. The other two parties- the ruling party-PPP and Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI)- were a distant second and third. This vote was against the incumbent PPP for lack of governance and mismanagement of the economy.
A negative outcome, was the emergence of sub-nationalism, as each of the three main parties managed to secure seats in their respective areas of dominance – PML in Punjab, PPP in Sindh and PTI in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. It was also for change, but for change with governance experience, as shown in the choice for Nawaz Sharif rather than for the Cricketer Imran Khan, heart throb of the youth. Nawaz Sharif would, therefore, become Prime Minister for the third time, after a lapse of fourteen years, which may turn out to be lucky for him and the country.
The election results received catchy headlines in leading English dailies in India, each conveying a message. Some of these were: ‘Pakistanis vote for change’; ‘Pakistan’s ‘Yes’ we can moment’; ‘Democracy wins, federation loses’ and ‘Minorities in a Naya Pakistan’. All these headlines conveyed a clear message that economic development and governance would be the guiding deities of ‘Naya’ (New) Pakistan. India-bashing was missing from the election campaign.
Internally, Sharif has a daunting task, as he undertakes immediate steps to uplift the economy, while containing the menance from terrorism. His maturity and political acumen would be tested in the appointments of President, Army Chief and the Chief Justice of Supreme Court. He has to ensure peace and stability, as he integrates dominant Punjabis with other sub-national groups.
Externally, Sharif will have to delicately balance relationship with USA, as he protects Pakistan’s sovereignty and not let it be drowned in drone attacks; provide political space to other regional players in its declared strategic backyard of Afghanistan and adopt a friendly posture towards India, as dictated by Pakistan’s economic compulsions.
What is of importance for India in this election? The results have been received positively by the leaders and peoples, who see this as a strengthening of democratic forces. Exchange of warm congratulatory messages has already set the tone, with Sharif promising to pick up the threads, from where he left in 1999. Sharif has reiterated now his earlier statement that good relations with India were crucial for Pakistan.
The moot question still remains. Would Sharif be able to deliver on his promises, as he traverses the chosen path. He will also have to ‘Walk the Talk’ with India, in taking concrete steps to prevent Pakistan from being used as a launch pad for terrorist activities in India. We all live in a world of hope and we expect to see these positive vibes, leading to peace and friendship, as herein lies salvation, for two peoples and two countries and world at large.