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By Global Public Square staff
Many of the countries we were so hopeful about only a couple of years ago are in turmoil. Egypt's stability is precarious. Turkey has been rocked by protests. The BRIC nations are sagging economically. On the other hand, there is one place, once described as the world's most dangerous country, that’s offering up a pleasant surprise: Pakistan. Yes, it's full of Islamic radicals, nuclear weapons, ambitious generals, and corrupt politicians. But things are changing.
Pakistan has just accomplished a first in its history: an elected government completed its five-year term, giving way to a new set of democratically elected leaders. This was never allowed to happen before. Every prior civilian government in Pakistan had been deposed by a military coup. You see, Pakistan's military is the world's seventh largest, and has ruled the country for almost half its existence.
The elections are even more exceptional when you consider the conditions. The Pakistani Taliban had declared war against democracy, targeting three major political parties for elimination. As a result, the campaign period turned out to be the bloodiest in Pakistan's history. At least 80 people were killed and 400 injured in dozens of attacks. Would you go to the polling booth in these conditions? And yet, voter turnout topped 55 percent – nearly the same as the last U.S. presidential election! In part, this is because Pakistan's demographics are vibrant. A third of the electorate is under the age of 30. These are voters who are not burdened by the memories and missteps of the past. Instead they're optimistic and forward-looking about their country.
Pakistan's economy remains in critical condition. Foreign investment is drying up, deficits crippling its government. But the new prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, has announced a series of measures to run state-owned companies more efficiently, to get the country's fiscal house in order, and to open up the economy. Most tantalizing is the prospect of better economic relations with India, which Sharif has been hinting at. Pakistan would get a huge boost if the government would remove barriers and burdens that are a product of old animosities rather than any sensible economic thinking.
Meanwhile, Al Jazeera this week leaked an astounding report on Pakistan. The Supreme Court investigated how on earth Osama bin Laden managed to live there for so long, undetected. The report reveals a completely inept police and military. And, it hints that certain elements within the Pakistani establishment may have known about bin Laden. It said: “connivance, collaboration, and cooperation… cannot be entirely discounted.”
The message should be clear. Pakistan's main enemies are not the ones its military would have you believe: India, Afghanistan, or the United States. The real enemies lie within: extremism, military dictatorship, weak institutions, and corruption. Islamabad now has a mandate – and the time – to fight those enemies. Pakistan is still a dangerous country, but for once there are hopeful signs from there as well.