The May 11 elections mark the beginning of a new era in Pakistan. Politically, it was a big step forward. A high turnout of near-about 60 percent reflected an upsurge in the people’s interest and participation in the national exercise for choosing their political masters. Unlike the past, there was little of interference or involvement of the army and America to influence the electoral outcome. The army’s restraint and compliance with the call of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) for security back-up was, indeed, laudable. Nor was there any appreciable US mix-up with the political contestants or show of a tilt for any of the parties.

The enthusiastic participation of the youth and women was another welcome feature of this election. The credit for this positive development mostly goes to Imran Khan and his PTI, although it has to be conceded that PML-N too attracted a large number of young men and women. Another new feature was the coming out of a large number of well-to-do middle class Pakistanis to take the trouble of going to the polling booths to cast their votes? The credit for this goes to Imran.

Shekhar Gupta, writing in the Indian Express, considers the generals’ behaviour on this occasion reflective of a “fundamental shift”. One may not fully endorse his conclusion if one were to read between the lines of the last public speech delivered by Kayani, but the fact remains that democracy has definitely made headway in Pakistan. This has happened in Shekhar’s words “because the people of Pakistan have decided to take charge of their own destiny.”

Yes, the people have spoken. A mature politician is tipped to hold the helm of the state. Another has emerged as a new force to reckon with. Because of its disastrous performance, the PPP has been reduced to the stewardship of the Sindh province only and a less than a leading role as opposition in the National Assembly.

It was good to find some of the alienated Balochi leaders deciding to take part in the elections. The Pathans of the province, who had boycotted the polls in 2008, actively participated in the 2013 elections and will have a considerable say in the running of Balochistan’s affairs.

In Karachi, the ECP was found wanting in discharging its responsibilities with the result that there was considerable manipulation at the polling stations and rigging in many places. As a mark of protest Jamaat-i-Islami walked out of the election in Karachi. The ECP has agreed to hold fresh polls in parts of the 250 constituency. PTI too has been unhappy with the electoral process in parts of Karachi and Lahore and its jiyalas have been protesting on the streets.

There also was violence at many places across the country, especially in the financial hub. That the elections were held as scheduled, despite the threats by Taliban, has been hailed internationally as a triumph of courage over the forces of terrorism.

Nawaz Sharif will be taking over as the next Prime Minister of Pakistan. He will face a string of daunting challenges. Some of the most formidable are: terrorism, power shortages, religious extremism, corruption, a rundown economy with high deficits, soaring inflation and closure of industries. Add to these, the trouble in Balochistan and the breakdown of law and order in Karachi and KPK. There also are the difficult issues relating to civil-military relations, as well as such complex and pressing challenges as the relations with India and USA and the role the country has to play in the endgame in Afghanistan.

Of these, the most urgent and taxing is finding a way to put an end to terrorism in Fata and the surrounding areas. Can peace be negotiated with the Pakistani Taliban? How and on what conditions? Linked to this phenomenon is the complex issue of drone strikes. With Imran Khan’s party ruling the roost in KPK, how will this issue be addressed?

Regarding Afghanistan, Pakistan has a role to play in engaging the Afghanistan Taliban with a view to bringing about a negotiated deal prior to US exit from the country.

With Pakistan facing huge deficits, how can the economy be turned around? What will be the terms of an IMF rescue package?

While dealing with the questions of economy and security, a decision will have to be made about the kind of relationship Islamabad may have with Washington? Another problematic area is the nature of relations with India. New Delhi has welcomed Nawaz’s return to power. Can Pakistan afford to rush into a warm embrace with our eastern neighbour, while problems like Kashmir, river water flows and other thorny disputes remain unresolved. (It is, indeed, surprising how suddenly a number of Indian delegations beating the “Aman ki Asha” drums are trooping into Pakistan just days ahead of  the new government takeover.)

People are anxiously waiting for an end to frequent power outages. What can be done to provide relief on this account in the near future? There also is the question of corruption and good governance. How to restore law and order (how, indeed, to make the police and law enforcement agencies abide by law and the rules.)

A colossal and massive effort will have to be made to successfully deal with the enormity of these challenges. Many of these issues are intertwined. A farsighted and coordinated approach will be required. The mess by the previous government will take years to sort out.

Running the national government in the post-18th Amendment Pakistan will tax all the sagacity and imagination Nawaz Sharif can muster. Time has matured and chastened him. He has a good team to share his burdens. But with Balochistan’s thorny problems remaining unaddressed, Sindh dominated by a non-too-happy PPP, Karachi practically an MQM fiefdom and KPK ruled by PTI and a few local politicians - only an experienced and dynamic statesman can lead the country to recovery and progress. The new Parliament would be a spirited assembly with PTI mavericks and many ambitious and impatient souls led by Imran Khan and a frustrated PPP taking the government to task for acts of omission and commission.

Punjab captained by the dynamic Shahbaz Sharif will help the central government in grappling with some of the national tasks. There will be no dull moments for Nawaz and hardly any respite from the pressing demands of all sorts, internal and external, from all sides. And media and higher judiciary will, all along, be watching like big brothers.

Hopefully, Nawaz will not yield to US pressure in regard to the pipeline from Iran and will quicken the pace of development of the Gwadar Port under Chinese management. Also, dozens of small dams will be speedily built to provide power before the large ones are ready to ensure an easy future.

May one also hope that population control measures will be strengthened and steps taken to make almost 50 percent of the 60 million illiterates of this country capable of reading and writing. The last government at the centre and in the provinces had been guilty of criminal neglect in taking up these two vital national tasks.

The writer is an ex-federal secretary and ambassador, and a freelance political and international relations analyst.