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Pakistan: The world’s bravest democracy

Updated May 17, 2013 02:19pm


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Pakistan may not be the world’s largest democracy, but is certainly the world’s bravest. Over 50 million voters braved heat, violence, and terrorism to cast their votes and wrote a new chapter in the history of democracy.

The al Qaeda franchise in Pakistan, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), had vowed to target anyone who would participate in the electoral process in Pakistan. Numerous attacks and suicide bombings by the TTP targeted liberal-minded candidates resulting in the pre-poll deaths of over 100 individuals. Despite these overt threats to their security and mercury rising over 35 degrees Celsius, Pakistani voters showed courage and resilience and cast almost 100 million votes (for provincial and National Assemblies) against the al Qaeda’s murderous ideology.

The world owes its gratitude to the people of Pakistan who, despite losing over 40,000 lives in the imposed war on terror, continued to fight against religious orthodoxy and violent fanaticism. The results of May 11 elections prove once again that if given the opportunity, Pakistani masses would embrace democracy against the religious orthodoxy.

While the polling closed on May 11, the massive exercise in adult franchise slipped into May 12 where officials carried on with vote tabulations and verifications. With over 86.189 million registered voters, 5000 candidates competing for the 342 seats of National Assembly, 11,692 candidates vying for the 728 Provincial Assembly seats, and over 600,000 army and security personnel deployed, elections in Pakistan are one of the largest exercises in democracy in scale and scope. Despite the violence that claimed almost 130 lives during electioneering, and the threats for even more terrorist violence abound, Pakistanis came out in droves to be a part of the democratic process.

Pakistanis rejected those who supported drones

While the early results reveal some fissures along regional and provincial lines where no one party has emerged victorious from all parts of Pakistan, the electorate appears united in its disdain for those politicians who covertly or overtly supported the American drone strikes on Pakistani soil. The Awami National Party (ANP) and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) who are believed to support the American drone strikes, were routed by the electorate. Whereas the two political parties that opposed the American drone strikes on Pakistani soil, i.e., Pakistan Muslim League of Nawaz Sharif and Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) of Imran Khan, emerged as the obvious victors in the May 11 elections.

It was only a few months earlier that Washington-based American academics in a paper tried to make the case for soft support for drone strikes in Pakistan. Professor Christine Fair and her two co-authors argued that 40 per cent of those Pakistani who were aware of the drone strikes supported them. I questioned the flaws in their reasoning and arithmetic because it painted a false picture of a non-existing support for drone strikes in Pakistan, which an overwhelming majority of Pakistanis considered a violation of their sovereignty.

Writing for The , the same authors in January 2013 insinuated that I had “no personal knowledge of the tribal areas and the political situation that prevails there”. They mocked at my assertion that "if there is a consensus in Pakistan on any one matter, it is the unanimous opposition to the American drone strikes on Pakistan’s territory." The elections on May 11 without doubt prove that there is no support or future for the American drone strikes on Pakistani soil. Those political parties that supported the drone strikes against the wishes of the electorate have been pushed into oblivion.

Government of national consensus

The American drone strikes on Pakistani soil are not the only challenge that the next government in the centre and others in the provinces will have to face. The faltering economy, a near complete breakdown of the infrastructure characterised by power outages and fuel shortages, unemployment, terrorist violence, and civil wars in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan are some of the challenges that have to be confronted by the new governments. The Parliament in Islamabad cannot address these challenges without embracing all important opinions and voices that have been supported by the masses in the May 11 elections. A government of national consensus is the need of the hour.

A quick look at the results reveals that Pakistanis have shown faith in the leadership of two individuals, Mian Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan. A government of national consensus should respect the electorate’s wishes and provide for a workable solution where the two most favoured leaders are able to lead Pakistan. Given that the Nawaz League and PTI agree on most elements of foreign policy, and they share the same inspirations for corruption-free and efficient governance while adhering to the supremacy of courts, Mr. Khan and Mr. Sharif may be closer in their political outlooks than what many observers believe.

With Nawaz League in the lead in the National Assembly, it appears that the two-time former Prime Minister, Mian Nawaz Sharif, will return for a third term. This still leaves the door open for Mr. Khan to be elected as the President of Pakistan later. It is highly unlikely that the current President, Asif Ali Zardari, will be able to function effectively, especially after his party has been shown the door by the electorate. This provides for the opportunity to have Mr. Khan restore credibility to the office of the president, which has suffered under Mr. Zardari’s tenure.

Challenges for the new government

While the new government may be tempted to promise the world to the starved masses, it will be wise not to give in to the temptation. Thus promising jobs for everyone in months, the end to corruption in 90 days, and a quick end to the load shedding are the kind of promises that no government will be able to fulfil in a jiffy.

A key challenge for the new government therefore will be to manage expectations of the electorate. Despite the assertion by some economists that the rate of economic growth could be doubled in Pakistan if the government were to follow their advice, it will be wise not to hope for economic miracles. The path to economic recovery will be circuitous and painful where things may get even worse before they will get better. The government should be bold and honest enough to communicate this reality to the masses.

The restoration and maintenance of law and order should be one of the top three priorities of the new government. Pakistan is imploding under sectarian and other religion-inspired violence. Those who have taken up arms against the State and have targeted innocent civilians should be dealt with full resolve. The new government has the explicit support of millions of voters and their families. It should act swiftly and decisively to eliminate the seed of terrorism from Pakistan’s soil.

By casting their vote in the May 11 elections, the 50-plus million Pakistanis have again become a stakeholder in the future of their homeland. While Pakistanis have elected their leaders on May 11, they should remember that great nations are made not just by great leaders but by great followers, who resiliently pursue their ideals for a prosperous and just society.

Election Mubarak and Pakistan Zindabad!


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Murtaza Haider is a Toronto-based academic and the director of

He tweets @regionomics

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (70) Closed

Sundaresh May 14, 2013 03:32pm

It is nice to see PAK is returning to normalcy. Hope democratic government completes its tenure. Happy neighbourhood is good for all.

Zymaidar May 14, 2013 06:16pm

Murtaza Bhai. I like your analysis, but I have some questions related to your analysis. May be you or someone else can shed light on these issues. 1. Why TTP allowed both these winning parties (PML-N & PTI) to held their rallies all over Pakistan if both are secular? May be majority of their voters are considered secular, but what about their leaders? 2. Does the winner flourished during the tenure of a religous dictator? Does the winner has aspirations to become Khalifa. 3. Does this family has ties with governement of a religous state of orthodox and violent nature?

YOUSUF HUSSAIN May 15, 2013 11:19am

I wish they do for the betterment poor people

yasir221 May 12, 2013 12:17pm
best of luck my Pakistan.
zom May 14, 2013 08:18am
Yes, Pakistan is the worlds bravest democracy. Even zombies drew courage from people and came out to vote with full force. More zombies took part to show their bravery than any election before. In the sweltering heat zombies ensured the total votes polled exceeded total voters.
nusmani May 12, 2013 12:03pm
ppl of Pakistan proves that they can come to vote..but the sad news is ECP has failed to control the mafia controlling the polling stations..
Nauman May 14, 2013 07:59am
So what is going to be new? Same faces, same bad governance, same corruption, same economic and power shortage chaos and worst of all the minorities will be treated even worse than before because of the extreme hardliner presence in PML-N.
babu May 12, 2013 01:42pm
60-65 % turnout in spite of huge hurdles , fairly clear cut winner ,amazing youth participation , congrats to the people of Pakistan < wish you well and chart your course wisely ,seriously mend fences and make India a trading partner. India can help with no hidden agenda , only trade , better than China or USA.
Divya May 12, 2013 03:25pm
Democracy over fanaticism is any day a wise choice. So congratulations Pakistan! Also, I sincerely hope, democracy in Pakistan is able to contribute in bringing lasting peace and stability in South East Asia. The region and its people have suffered enough, and now peace and progress should be the only way forward!
Blue Purpule May 12, 2013 05:37pm
well done, Pakistani's ; who braved goon;s . In a way it is slap on their faces .. Hope the right wingers bite dust
Parvez May 12, 2013 07:25pm
Nicely put. I wish the media would use its vast resources in order to highlight the fact that although the election was far from perfect , a few things stood out a you mentioned but the fact that by and large the people have rejected the religious parties must be hammered home because its a fact.
Avtar May 12, 2013 08:35pm
I certainly hope the newly elected government can take advantage of the momentum and put the religious fanatic groups out of business and end the state support to terrorist outfits such JeT. It is a tall order.
HNY2013 May 12, 2013 11:02pm
It would be interesting to see how the new government STOPS the drones. What will they do if there is 'a' drone attack?
Majid May 12, 2013 11:38pm
The "failed state" tag used so often has been hit for six. Big issues remain of course but Inshallah my children will see a better future.
SUNIL May 13, 2013 12:30am
Congratulations Pakistan. Hope that all the executive decesions are taken by the democratically elected prime minister. The army stays in the barracks. All the best
sarita talwai May 13, 2013 12:34am
Congratulations to the voters of Pakistan who weathered the heat and braved the bombs to demand change. A lesson for the apathetic voters and fence sitters across the border. And what a magnificent sight a sub-continent election is!
SankarIndian May 13, 2013 12:44am
There is no doubt. People of Pakistan proved to be brave and elect their leader and rejected others using and killing their own people for $$$. This is a great start for the region be safe and progress.
Raj May 13, 2013 12:45am
Media is wrong so are you on assessment of the situation in pakistan. Do you realy believe that there would be any change in dron policy ? Do you honestly think that new gov dare to change policy towards usa. Second thing world do not owe any gratitude because of a simple reason people of pakistan has chosen right path for themselves for becoming progressive society. World has tolerated generals rules in pakistan in past.
dr sahu May 13, 2013 12:52am
quite well written, hats off to public who participated, especially those in karachi.... Mr Khan as president.. thts almost impossible, he is not even willing to make coalition with nawaz in central govt, both of them fighting for the same city lahore, have a conflict of interest, n being one of imran's supporter, we would never like him to b a part of nawaz govrnmnt as his president, we would love to see him as a friendly and fair opposition leader
Jalaluddin S. Hussain May 13, 2013 02:05am
I fully reciprocate your positive feelings. May Pakistan once again can stand on its feet!
Susan May 13, 2013 02:06am
Murtaza, Thank you for surfacing some really important actions that the people of Pakistan exercised over the last few days - to me is showed that citizens long for a different future and are as similar or different to people in other countries. Althoughthere is fragmentation, there is a desire to see a nation take shape. This is a country with so much potential if only it could be shaped for the benefit of all. Dawn also carried an interview with Naom Chomsky and I quote from the article: "Two days after the Boston marathon bombings, there was a drone strike in Yemen attacking a peaceful village, which killed a target who could very easily have been apprehended. But of course it is just easier to terrorise people. The drones are a terrorist weapon, they not only kill targets but also terrorise other people. That is what happens constantly in Waziristan."
Achin S May 13, 2013 02:16am
please do not let religion and the army mix with politics.
sameer May 13, 2013 03:20am
Can I ask you how does this election show people rejected religious orthodoxy? What does religious orthodoxy has to with terrorism. Fact is that most ulema actually ask people to wait and some of the religious party even took in election You mean PTI and PML(N) have similar stance. No they are not same. In term of economic polity PTI is on left side and PML is on right side
Chaman May 13, 2013 03:29am
Congratulations to all brave men and women of Pakistan who dared to exercise their franchise with total disregard to the threats from some extremist groups. With democracy deepening its roots and people committed to put the country on a path of peace, progress and prosperity, the future is certainly looking up. Best wishes from all of us. Dawn, please stay commuted to th open debate policy of the issues. That is the only way to gather ideas and open the minds of people. Love the slogan " for the people, by the people"
IK May 13, 2013 03:40am
May 11 elections were joke in Pakistan with wide spread rigging in Punjab and Karachi with no accountability of perpetrators and ECP, police, army and media were silent spectators
Khan May 13, 2013 03:53am
Dr. Haider: please tell me something --> - bilwal bhutto prefers to stay in dubai/london instead of pakistan?! - musharraf just came back from living in dubai/london?! - imran khan sees himself as an outsider/british trying to help the "lost and poor" pakistanis - Nawaz Sharif finds it safe to live in saudi arabia instead of pakistan?! So all these pakistanis prefer to stay outside pakistan than in pakistan :) -- what does that tell you about pakistani leaders and pakistan?! Brave Democracy?! -- I think NOT! :)
Khan May 13, 2013 03:59am
You meant to say, South Asia - right? Pakistan is not part of southeast-asia, and neither is India.
Venki May 13, 2013 04:34am
Yes, I think Pakistan has earned the title of being the world's bravest "democracy" and we are hoping that the crown sits well on your head.
Adnan Siddiqi (@kadnan) May 13, 2013 04:34am
A country like US and INdia claims secular highly influenced with religion based policies, What are you smoking?
Alan May 13, 2013 05:04am
You buy a lion cub in your house, hand feed them human flesh, grow them to become a man eater...then you stand in front of him and say you are brave.. yes you are brave there is no doubt...but you could have chosen to live without a lion in your house and people would have called you "safe" rather than "brave"...choice was yours....anyways congrats and lets hope for the best!!
Dilawer May 13, 2013 05:07am
focus on the positives. There are always some shortcomings. In USA, the election results were high jacked and Supreme Court decided the results-much worse than the elections in Pakistan
SanCha May 13, 2013 05:23am
Surely, Pakistan proved braveness in Democratic process, like Kashmiri people showed braveness in India, during Kashmir assembly election, during which majority of People voted inspite of bycotts from Separatists and threats from terrorists. It proves that people in this part of the region are very much fond of Democratic process. I hope military in Pakistan doesn't undermine this braveness, shown by people, as it did during Gen. Musharaff's time.
Dhanus Menon May 13, 2013 05:26am
It like saying I created a monster and now I am brave enough to go out and vote in spite of the monster threatening me.........and it is not imposed war on terror, you guys created theses people and still use them on the sly. Pakistan has to first change hypo critic attitudes to develop.
Brandsynario May 13, 2013 06:39am
Pakistani people are brave and they are not afraid to participate in anything that would bring prosperity in Pakistan
Rahul May 13, 2013 07:14am
Why should the world be grateful for Pakistan choosing a democratic process. The world does not owe Pakistan anything. The fact of the matter is Pakistan is responsible for its own woes. Don't blame others for self created issues.
Abhay Joshi May 13, 2013 07:15am
Yes..we must congratulate Pakistani people for bracing up the challenge of TTP LeJ etc. They have voted for Democracy and new government/s. While we Indians and our Govt have variety of differences with Pakistan and its Govt,Army,ISI; we should not put every Pakistani in the Box. Pakistani people belong to a mass of humanity which also should enjoy the life. We should watch but not despise. My Best Wishes to the Pakistani people-hope the exercise will help them in getting better off.
iqbal carrim May 13, 2013 07:18am
A powerful article.The arguments are very sound.The expectations need to be managed by genuine patriots in power who act for the welfare of the people , especially the down troddens. The country is rich both in human and natural resources.Let us pray that the newcomers behave as trustees of the assets of Pakistan, and not plunderers/ proprietors.
P.R.Koduri May 13, 2013 07:35am
The brightest facet of the elections has been the participation and enthusiasm of the youth of the country. This is a pointer to the better things yet to come. United by Youth, the country can only succeed.
crabman May 13, 2013 08:02am
Such a sham, they fooled us all again, we voted, we protested and in the end it didn't even matter. From far outside, it might look like people have spoken, and in fact a vast majority did, however the listeners, and authorities in-charge of regulating affairs are deaf and dumb to the plight we all faced in exercising our basic right, they choose to ignore open rigging with concrete evidence, coercion, and refusal to let people cast their vote. The common man is still frustrated, peaceful protesters are threatened openly and publicly on Television by the greatest scum on Earth, and keep in mind, that it's not only a threat, it has been put in action as we speak. We fall into darkness once again, ruled by corrupt people who have been tried and tested two times before. No third time is not the charm believe me, but hey its a victory, its democracy and we all are ecstatic that once again nations wealth will be plundered, civilians gunned down, business-men extorted and killed all under the democratic political umbrella.. CHEERS!!!!
Bihari May 13, 2013 08:20am
world has some thing to cheer ....... Islamist radicals falls flat in the election..
Ghalib Khan May 13, 2013 08:34am
It takes time we all agree on that, but none of us is willing to give it, it is going to take elections after elections for the masses to understand their power. And if this process continues things like rigging and other things like Family based politics will go away with time. I give credit to IK that he has launched his Party and portrayed it as a national Party not from any region it is unfortunate though that he has received maximum seat for one region the Big Task ahead of him will be to not let this label stick to his party, if he can manage that future is bright for his party.
Sriram May 13, 2013 08:43am
You have voted and that really took some bravery, congrats. But you would do well to remember that it doesn't stop with voting - you have to give the message to your rulers whenever you see them err, or see human values threatened in your country. Otherwise the bravery would have been but a flash in the pan, and the voters would get disillusioned, and apathy would set in.
Naveed` May 13, 2013 09:44am
Congrats to the People of Pakistan, for your courage to go out and vote despite all the threats, you have left no doubts about your couage, i wish and hope that the mandate given by the people is accepted by all the parties and they support the goverment in dealing with the problems facing the country. All we need is the correct direction, which will be dictated by the policies of the goverment and as quick as possible. Well done and let us all join hands and minds to set our paths in the righ direction. May ALlah Bless Pakistan and its people.
Udai Singh May 13, 2013 10:15am
It is a great news that so many Pakistanis voted in the elections, despite all possible odds. I was expecting lowest ever turnout, but truth was just the reverse. I salute brave people of Pakistan, especially the female voters.
kmshafique May 13, 2013 10:37am
Agee with most part. However, wishing that PML-N would make Mr. Khan (given the challenges his party poses to PML-N in Punjab) the President of Pakistan seems a little too idealistic but an interesting proposition. Could it prove to be a successfull strategic move to nip the emregence of PTI in the bud?
Kamal Gupta May 13, 2013 11:34am
Overjoyed to see the voter turnout. The citizens of Pakistan have proved most analysts wrong, including the one that said that barely 30% of the people support democracy, and that most support military or theocratic dictatorship. I hope to see the party-wise vote share percentages soon. That statistic is an important measure of support that each party has, even though Pakistan, like many other democracies has "first past the post" system of winning seats.
vorticbob May 13, 2013 12:05pm
Now onwards, world will not think Pakistan as a terrorist state. The great people of Pakistan voted with courage and valor. No body should ever forget the people who paid their lives in this process. They should be treated as great Martyrs and honored accordingly. Don't treat them as victims of another terror attack. Kudos to Pakistan.
NASAH (USA) May 13, 2013 12:14pm
Two things happened: the electorate pulled down the spineless parasites -- the voters were not one whit afraid of the pathetic marauders.
raika45 May 13, 2013 12:28pm
The people of Pakistan braved all odds to vote for nation's future.Now let us see that those elected can repay the peoples faith in them.Mere words and false promises will not work.The people need results of these promises.
Satyendra May 13, 2013 12:30pm
Congratulations Pakistan!! A well deserved victory for democracy and by killer punch for terrorists!! Personally i wished Imran Khan to win..but anyway this is a great victory for people of Pakistan!! Congrats once again!! All the best!!
Sandeep-Delhi May 13, 2013 12:45pm
What would you have done if you were the PM? It is easy to criticize and spread negativity, but the need to the hour is to embrace the change that the pakistani people have voted for and also to believe in the belief that the people have put on Nawaz Sharif. Good luck to PML-N and congratulations on the historic win !
Venkat RR May 13, 2013 01:16pm
Wonderful achievement. The bravery and courage of the people of Pakistan is to be admired! Congratulations and best wishes from Bangalore!
Girish May 13, 2013 01:31pm
Strong, democratic, secular, peaceful Pakistan is in India's interest for becoming a superpower. Pakistan will gain tremendously from good trade, cultural and economic relationship with India and vice-a-versa too. India's only worry is not Strong Pakistan, but a fanatical Pakistan with zero religious tolerance and radical agenda of Islamization. (We know majority of Pakistan is not radical, but we also know radicalization is on the rise and not in decline, thus its a worry). Good luck to Pakistanis, It a new begining for Pakistan as it got independence again. I wish Pakistanis will take care this time..
Abid Mahmud Ansari Islamabad. May 13, 2013 02:02pm
The huge turn out of Voters and their verdict against,corruption,Bhatta mafia, most important they rejected the theocracy,and the way they braved the threat s from TTP,is a message loud and clear to the theocracy and TTP.
Raja Islam May 13, 2013 03:01pm
Both Nawaz and Imran are right wingers. Before getting into the economic agenda, we will have to see how the PML government deals with the Taleban and the MQM.
Raja Islam May 13, 2013 03:03pm
They are both right wing parties. The only difference is that PTI is a right wing party with liberal supporters while PML is a right wing party with right wing supporters.
farmerdr May 13, 2013 03:19pm
Making IK President would effectively finish his political aspirations.
Mushtaq Khan, New York May 13, 2013 03:56pm
I would like to congratulate everyone who won in this election and most importantly congratulate the brave citizens who participated in voting, despite so much threat. I hope this election brings us better governance. As an ex-patriot, I want nothing but peace, prosperity, success, justice for all in the motherland and better relation with neighboring countries. However, I strongly disagree with the author for the following statement:
Vjust May 13, 2013 04:39pm
Congratulations. Truly brave achievement. Democracy cannot be stopped.
Munir Afzal May 13, 2013 05:45pm
It is brave. spend so much money on elections and in all probality military coup will happen in 2014.
Alam Zeb Khan May 13, 2013 06:02pm
People showing great interests in election process is awareness which media has advocated. All the credit goes to media. Talk show hosts have enlighten the importance of vote and people got the message. This is very healthy and I believe from now no Pakistan people have learned the importance and any government weather sharif brothers or zardari learned that they can be ousted with the power of vote. I thing I got disappointed that vote did not go for PTI but i accept our people's decision. People have short vision they look at minor things to make vote decision but hopefully they will learned it soon.
Shahid May 13, 2013 06:44pm
He will not accept it. He previously didn't accept the PM post under Musharraf.
Vivek Raj May 13, 2013 09:27pm
Congratulations to people of Pakistan,you did it.
BRR May 14, 2013 12:07am
The writer seems wya off when he claims "The world owes its gratitude ". I would say, the world is tired of the mess called Pakistan, which is a source of problems. The world, at best is relieved that Pakistan has an opportunity to behave responsibly. The writer seems to be mistaken sometimes, and mistakes a "sigh of relief" by the world for "clapping", and a "problem child" that Pakistan is for a "savior of the world".
BRR May 14, 2013 12:12am
well said - the world owes Pakistan nothing - absolutely nothing, but disdain, for all the problems it creates, for the basket case it has become, and for hatred it spreads.
BRR May 14, 2013 12:13am
Well said, but lost on people who think the world owes them something for doing nothing.
Jaseem May 14, 2013 12:57am
Regardless of the rhetoric about democracy, the reality is that Al-Qaeda and its panders won. Rigging was the method of choice for election campaign. "People" have made their choice for the same leader for the third time. It is a reflection of the quality of Pakistanis' sophistication about leadership criteria. We all have to accept.
Sandeep Singh May 14, 2013 03:32am
What Democracy?
BIMAL CHANDRA JHA May 14, 2013 04:02am
Sir, I agree with the assessment of the situation in respect of May 11 election of Pakistan . I also congratulate the common people of Pakistan for their courage to defy the diktat of religious fundamentalists. Let the elected government do its best to alleviate the poverty,guarantee full employment to youths and work for the development of Pakistan. Yours faithfully; BIMAL CHANDRA JHA
Anidesh, Mumbai May 14, 2013 05:26am
Nice to know about the brave efforts of voters. Congratulations.