The warmth surrounding the retirement of Pakistan’s top judge last Wednesday may have appeared to some as a moment of glory for the country’s evolving democracy. Yet, notwithstanding the orderly departure of Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhary as chief justice of the Supreme Court and his replacement by the next in line senior-most judge, Pakistan continues to face an array of tough challenges, including many of its own making.

Chaudhary’s claim to fame goes back to events in 2007 when he chose to defy General Pervez Musharraf, the military ruler at the time, after the latter sought the former’s resignation on a range of issues, including allegations of corruption surrounding Arsalan, Chaudhary’s son. What followed was the spectacularly unexpected emergence of a widespread movement, led by lawyers and joined by civil society activists, to resist the move. Musharraf’s attempt to replace Chaudhary not only backfired almost immediately but the resistance demonstrated Pakistan’s coming of age from the days when the military squarely dominated the scene.

Chaudhary’s defiance and its outcome were subsequently followed by other important milestones that cemented a young democratic framework. These notably have included the completion of a full term by a parliament of elected representatives and Pakistan’s successful transition to a new government, elected through the ballot box. Chaudhary’s departure was preceded by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s appointment of a new army chief — a delicate transition in a country where the military has historically dominated key choices, including those of its top leaders.

These trends should have raised the comfort level surrounding the future of the recently-elected ruling structure, which, this year, enabled Sharif to establish a landmark when he became Pakistan’s Prime Minister for the third time.

But notwithstanding this unprecedented historical event, Pakistan’s future remains gloomy at best — thanks to the mounting evidence of a succession of policy failures surrounding key areas. While members of the parliament elected this year should have put their heads down immediately to tackle the most pressing challenges faced by Pakistan, it is abundantly clear that this august political forum remains out of sync with the compelling challenges confronting the country. More than six months after Sharif’s victory, which helped him complete a full circle back to Islamabad — from where he was arrested during the 1999 military coup led by Musharraf — his newly-elected government appears to be literally groping in the dark. The two key areas that are central to Pakistan’s survival — national security and economy — are still waiting to receive the kind of focus that is necessary to begin tackling most difficult challenges.

In sharp contrast to the latest indications of Pakistan’s democratisation, the country’s suffering is abundantly evident in the lives of its mainstream population. Since Pakistan’s elections earlier this year, the Pakistani rupee has sunk considerably while popular lament surrounding inflation appears to suggest a growing popular malaise. Additionally, a visibly lacklustre response from investors to a recently announced set of business incentives by Sharif’s government easily underlines a widespread disappointment with the ruling structure.

Sharif’s handling of Pakistan’s acute security challenges so far has brought out little clarity. He began his tenure with promises of setting the stage for opening an unprecedented peace process with the Taliban. However, that process remains an elusive dream, mainly because the Taliban appears to have shown little willingness to join such a process.

Last but not the least, Pakistan’s acute foreign policy challenges present a continuing struggle. Two days prior to Chaudhary’s retirement, a day-long visit to Islamabad by US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel provided a fresh reminder of the room for discord between the two countries. A continuing source of US-Pakistan friction remains the closure of a key land supply route to Afghanistan. Since last month, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) political party led by Imran Khan, the cricket star-turned politician, has kept the route blocked via the northern city of Peshawar for supply convoys for US troops in Afghanistan. The PTI rules the northern Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province (KP) of which Peshawar is the capital and therefore claims to have the authority to block the route running through its territory.

There are many across Pakistan who sympathise with PTI’s decision, which was taken in protest against the continuation of US drone attacks targeting suspected sanctuaries of Islamic militants located in parts of KP. Yet, many strategic observers also insist that facilitating a US drawdown from Afghanistan may indeed be of greater service to Pakistan’s interests than blocking supplies to Afghanistan and thereby disrupting prospects for an orderly US departure from Pakistan’s neighbourhood.

Irrespective of whichever of the two positions will best serve Pakistan’s interests, it is clear that Sharif needs to demonstrate leadership of the kind that has just not emerged from his government so far. Rather than sitting on the fence as he appears to have done in the case of the PTI protest, Sharif needs to take a clear position and publicly defend that choice.

Its clear that an eventual consolidation of Pakistan’s emerging democracy will lie not so much in successfully overseeing changes of top-ranking personnel, as those witnessed recently at the Supreme Court or the Pakistan Army. Instead, a consolidation of democracy will come about only when Pakistan’s recently-elected politicians get down to the business of ruling their country in ways that will make a difference to the lives of the people.

The writer is a political and economic analyst. Courtesy Gulf News.