Joseph Stalin once said: “Political power does not rest with those who cast votes; political power rests with those who count votes.” Similar logic reverberated in President Asif Zardari’s declaration: “PPP was defeated (or marginalised) not by the people, but by international conspiracies.” We were too presumptuous and naive to expect cent percent free and fair elections could be a possibility under our prevailing circumstances and fundamentals. What we got is the best we could. The real power in our country has, from times immemorial, rested with the (so-called) establishment - that includes the chosen politicians. Their strings are, in turn, held in the hands of other more powerful players - the donors and the international strategists. For them, our country is no more than a pawn in a chessboard to be moved forward, destined for the ultimate chop, in the service of the king. The game has been replayed far too often. Yet all varieties of our rulers, who come and go, keep offering our poor people and their honour for sacrifice, in return for pittance.The same powers have been making a beeline to the Sharif Raiwind estate, meeting the Prime Minister and his team with their packages, even before he was sworn in. Unconfirmed news is circulating in the media of a Saudi offer to supply oil on deferred payment. Very generous and very timely from a brotherly Muslim nation with a personal affection and rapport with the incoming Prime Minister. What is not being discussed is what would they want in return? Would they want us to turn a blind eye to the target killing of the Hazaras, to give a freehand to TTP or a lenient attitude towards Musharraf? Or would they want us to follow the American dictates, routed delicately through them? There is never a free lunch!Now consider the Americans and the British. For the relatively petty aid, most of which finds its way back through their consultants and products, would they not want (as before) complete obedience to who we should talk to and who should we deal with? Would they not want us to grant the Indians MFN status and a free trade route to Afghanistan and Central Asia on their terms with little protection for our agriculture, trade and industry? Forget the mention of Kashmir, which happens to be the lifeline of our region and whose people are indirectly fighting our war. Would they not want us to conform to the US sanctions against Iran and keep it cool towards China? It is the moment for our leadership to decide if it is going to fall into the trap of dependency on charity once again or it is going to lead the nation to self-reliance by tightening its belt, austerity, enhancing indigenous productivity, raising the level of competence and eliminating financial corruption from the system? (Even the battered Palestinians gave a cold shoulder to the offer of aid made by US Secretary of State John Kerry.)Presently, all our state affairs, foreign and domestic, have touched the rock bottom. We are a pariah around the world, looked at with suspicion wherever we go. Our relations with the immediate neighbours are cool, if not hostile. We have the Taliban in the north spreading all the way to the south, the insurgents in the west, the mafias in Karachi, extremist training camps in south Punjab and the coterie of a handful of corrupt politicians in collusion with the bureaucracy dedicated to a mission to empty the treasury. All of them combined have created disorder, terror and economic and social collapse throughout the country. The deadly religious zealots have no qualms in killing Muslim men praying in mosques, in funeral processions, madrassas and imambargahs. They have killed political workers, army jawans and officers, rangers, the police and anyone wearing a uniform. They have attacked military and security installations. These miscellaneous groups, based deep within our society, have been escaping the arm of the law primarily due to ineffective prosecution and the reluctance of judges to give judgments for fear of their lives in a backlash.One of the countless and faceless Taliban groups that had made a much trumpeted offer of dialogue, withdrew it, just as the very people they had chosen were about to assume positions of authority for result-oriented negotiations. Hardly an endorsement of sincerity! The incoming government needs to divert its attention from chasing these shadows hiding in the mountains and in safe houses. Some of them are found in our minds.We need to devise a two-pronged strategy to apprehend and eliminate these elements that are well within our reach. To succeed, we must strengthen the investigating agencies, to identify and fish out these culprits, and the legal system to prosecute and award sentences that must be strictly and boldly enforced. Simultaneously, educational and financial programmes must be introduced to bring the misguided and deprived people in the mainstream and public awareness programmes to take the common people in the street, on board. The state must, during this term, concentrate more towards providing the basic amenities to the public such as education, health and drinking water that have been largely ignored by the outgoing governments. There is consensus over the effective management of loadshedding and overcoming the massive leakages in the energy production and distribution. However, the theoretical sums worked out in conference room deliberations by the usual wizards have consistently failed on the ground in meeting the forecasts. Just good intentions will not suffice. The actual root cause is the incompetence and the antiquities of the established systems and their deep-rooted corruption, nurtured over the years. The new administration will have to muster the political will and determination to purge this menace by reorganising and appointing at all levels competent technical experts in the field (not just cosmetic shuffling of politicians or administrators), who comprehend the complexities and can reform the system right to the grassroots from within. Fresh talent is available both at home and abroad, waiting to be discovered. The good news is that all the five incoming governments are conscious of the ground realities and challenges, and have expressed their unanimous commitment to take them head on. The bad news is that the entire leadership is in a real danger of becoming a victim of its own election rhetoric that has heightened the expectations of the public. The primary requisites for the leadership will be to generate resources and capacity to sustain internal and external pressures. The moth has penetrated and eaten our social fibre across the board over the last six decades. Results will emerge gradually, but people will be satisfied if movement on the right course is visible instantly. 

The writer is an engineer and an entrepreneur.