A NEW year brings both challenge and opportunity, but 2018 could be a historically significant year for Pakistan.
How the country navigates three issues in particular could shape its future for a number of years to come.
First, the general election. A third consecutive on-time election would be a historic first, but the run-up to the election may well be turbulent.
The political class and the ECP could help carve a smoother path to the general election by putting in place a robust electoral system that accurately represents the demography of Pakistan and will allow for a historically free and fair election.
A free and fair election is an essential condition for a healthy democracy and the country will have an opportunity to demonstrate that progressively better election processes are possible.
Furthermore, for the will of the people to prevail, anti-democratic forces will need to be collectively countered by the political class. May the true representatives of the people be elected, whichever party that is.
Second, the fight against extremism. The lynching of heroic and young Mashal Khan and the Faizabad protest were deeply disturbing episodes. Pakistan and its people cannot afford more such episodes.
Even as the fight against militancy continues, the fight against extremism will need to be taken up. The National Action Plan is a moribund document that needs to be urgently reinvigorated.
But there are conflicting signals. Neither among the political class nor in the permanent state does there appear to be the clarity on what counter-extremism means and what it should entail. Indeed, rolling back the vast infrastructure of hate in the country will be a complicated and difficult task requiring coordination across an array of state institutions in the provinces and at the centre.
Delay and inaction are no longer options, however; the disturbing events of 2017 have made clear that the scale of the extremism challenge has already reached horrifying proportions.
Third, the regional security situation will need to be carefully managed. From Afghanistan to India and from the US to the intensifying conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia, Pakistan has a delicate balancing task ahead.
The bright spot is relations with China and deeper ties via CPEC. Improving relations with Russia is another positive possibility.
But the war in Afghanistan, US military actions in the region and tensions with India are likely to remain the dominant security issues confronting Pakistan.
Pragmatism rooted in clear, beneficial principles will be needed. Will the policymaking elite be able to deliver?
Published in Dawn, January 1st, 2018