When Pakistan’s newly-elected members of the federal Parliament took oath in Islamabad, they were not just leading the country into a new era of democracy. Notwithstanding the much celebrated, first-ever peaceful transition in Pakistan’s history from one democratic government to another, the country’s new ruling class must also quickly realise the gravity of vital challenges facing them and deal with them consequently.Nawaz Sharif, leader of the PML-N, who will soon become the next Prime Minister, has already conceded the difficult challenge staring his government right in its face.The new government steps into office at a time when Pakistan’s multiple challenges range from the dismal state of its economy to the fallout from precarious security conditions and troubles surrounding its foreign relations. The choices made for tackling any one of these issues will likely come in tandem with a potentially unpalatable fallout.It is even possible that Pakistan’s next political rulers will simply fail in tackling some of these challenges. Still, it is vital that in the state’s best national interest, the newly-elected politicians must come together to begin tackling the most difficult issues.This will be essential not just for promoting a democratic culture on the floor of the house. Equally so, it will be important to build an across the board national consensus among Pakistan’s next coterie of political rivals, who must learn to coexist in the interest of preserving a well thought out and well articulated national interest.The challenge faced by the new government is likely to become more acute in view of the performance of the previous government in the past five years. If anything, the lessons from the devastating defeat of PPP in the May 11 parliamentary elections only serve to underline the degree to which the former regime became unpopular.Asif Ali Zardari, Pakistan’s President and the de facto leader of PPP, has ascribed his party’s defeat to resistance from the Taliban, who according to PPP leaders, including Zardari, blocked the party from campaigning hard in the populous Punjab province. Yet, a closer analysis of the events leading up to the elections amply illustrates the degree to which the PPP government’s failures only evaporated its support among the ordinary public.Indeed, this clear link between the popular mood and the recent political outcome, must suggest increasing maturity among ordinary Pakistanis. If a government fails to perform, throw out that regime and bring in a new one through the ballot box must be the popular mood that drove the trends. For Sharif’s government, the writing on the wall is clear: there is a need to perform and live up to the public’s expectations or simply pack up and leave after the next elections.At the same time, Pakistan acutely needs national unity to deal with some of the key challenges surrounding the country. Sharif’s arrival has coincided with a weakening of the economy in an unprecedented manner. The rupee remains weaker than it was five years ago, while the fiscal reserves of the central bank are clearly on the down swing. To add to this aggravation is, indeed, the bottom line, which is essentially that in spite of a recent upturn in the stock markets, new investments have practically dried up. This is in large measure due to not just the failure of the last government to perform, but also widespread accounts of corruption surrounding prominent decision makers.Additionally, Sharif’s government will realise very quickly that a significant part of its time will be taken up managing difficult foreign relations. Just days before the oath-taking, the latest US drone attack, which targeted a location in the tribal areas along the Afghan border, once again touched a raw nerve in US-Pakistan relations. Sharif and other politicians, notably Imran Khan, the former cricket star, devoted parts of their campaign messages to promises of resisting the US use of drones on Pakistani territory.While Sharif arrives victorious to Islamabad, Khan’s PTI in the past few days has formed the new provincial government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Both leaders may eventually find it difficult to put relations with the US on hold with respect to the drones issue, while also moving to tackle other key challenges. The bottom line of the oath-taking must be just one: Pakistani politicians must realise very quickly that the ruling structure in Islamabad simply cannot afford complacency as Pakistan’s slide continues.

nThe writer is a political and economic analyst. This article has been reprinted from the Gulf News.