Elections 2013 are over and, as opined in the past, impacted by the US interests. As written in “The Election Conundrum”, the flurry of recent diplomacy and visits between London, Dubai, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Bonn and Ankara indicate awareness of the fallouts of the contemplated US exit from Afghanistan on Pakistan and, by implication, the composition of the future government. Any failure to remove suspicions will strengthen this view. Sick and tired of the moth-eaten system, all Pakistanis had questioned: would Elections 2013 be a game changer or will they sink Pakistan yet again into the proverbial black hole of its politics? In response, they turned out in large numbers. The statistics finally released by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) will settle questions of accurate turnout or would they?

In a matter of weeks, the petitions in the ECP would meet their fate - re-polls in some areas held and by-elections concluded. Parties with question marks would ultimately be cajoled and persuaded to accept the inevitable. As the speech by General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani on the Martyrs Day fades away as a far cry from realities, the question that haunts is: whether the world’s most brave democracy would defy odds and hold its own within a sea of diversity? Given the past, we can only pray and hope that Pakistan’s uncertain portals with their destructive potential do not disrupt an era of effective parliamentary democracy and national reconstruction.

The lesson lost on the establishment and those who pull strings is that Pakistan’s chequered and scripted elections have successively failed to deliver. Five years of military-dominated rule from 2002-2007, and subsequent five years of an NRO 1 regime, failed to deliver in eradicating militancy and sustaining development. During the dark age of PPP government, the resilient nation did not succumb to ‘economic hit-men’ and turned out in large numbers to reject all characters that played havoc with the state; sweet revenge on a regime that termed democracy as best revenge. Faced with a historic experience of manipulated results, the best we can do is to pray and hope.

The polarised results in 1970 failed to strengthen the federation and uphold the mandate that resulted in the division of Pakistan.

Further, the 1990 elections that brought the Nawaz Sharif-led IJI to power is black marked by the Mehran Bank scandal and Asghar Khan case. Though the case was referred by the Supreme Court to the federal government in 2013, the latter showed no inclination to pursue it, nor did the ECP take cognisance under Articles 62 and 63 of the constitution.

It also appears that the mutuality of the skeletons in the cupboard prevented most parties to pursue the ends of justice. The 1990 IJI government lasted two years and PPP was elected back to power in 1993.

1997 brought a landslide victory to PML-N, while PPP was reduced to miserly 18 seats in the National Assembly. The purpose was to strengthen a centrist rightist party and get Pakistan going in the right direction. Ultimately, in the moth-eaten system, the beneficiary turned on its own and brought down everything with it. The President, Chief Justice and COAS were all humbled till the generals of General Pervez Musharraf delivered the final blow. It is an ironic twist that the man, who once held Nawaz Sharif in captivity, faces the same fate at the hands of his once captive.

With PPP confined to Sindh, the PML-N once again gets a favourable mandate. To witness any significant development, Pakistanis will have to wait and watch whether PML-N has grown in maturity or will it fall into its familiar confrontationist mode? Maturity implies that, by and large, its mandate is genuine and not tied to strings.

As reaction to the status quo, the people of Pakistan turned out in large numbers to make the choices. However, their vigour was marred by the endemic propensity of old actors to engineer the results. But still there is time and if the ECP holds good its promise of verifying every ballot paper, the rigging can be undone and the confidence of the people reinforced in electoral accountability.

If the elections, indeed, appear muddied, it implies that PTI could not convince the establishment of the credibility and viability of its alternative options to facilitate US withdrawal from Afghanistan, restore peace in the region, and control militancy inside Pakistan. It also implies that for those in the establishment, PTI slogans rode high on emotionalism and short on substance.

To PTI’s credit, however, are the assembly of masses in unprecedented numbers and the ability to convince the rich and the poor to turn out and vote. As a new force to reckon with, the party has become a sizable opposition party in Punjab and has the largest presence in KPK. Though not reflected in the number of seats, PTI has laid claim to at least 18 percent of the urban vote bank in Karachi.

Logically, the perception of free and fair elections will keep this change energised. Anything to contrary will discourage this segment of people from future participation. The ECP and the judiciary owe it to this massive additional turnout to prove their transparency. This will also cool political tempers and make way for pluralism in the larger interests of the country. Failure will breed suspicion, circumspect attitudes and discords for the worse.

The fierce political and ideological rivalry between PML-N and PTI will test both in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa; success and failure will affect equally. Without a simple majority and a hostile centre, PTI faces the onerous task of governing KPK with allies that may not be the choicest. Both JI and QWP of Sherpao are tested and failed parties representing status quo. The PML-N, JUI and floaters in opposition will continue staring down PTI’s throat. The split mandate leaves no room for complacency; and herein is the challenge.

PTI’s only salvation lies in proving its electoral slogans in a province plagued with strong incursions of the Taliban. It has to fight back from the corner of the ring, bring the Taliban to negotiations within the ambit of the constitution and positively affect the lives of the common man on the streets. This is a mission others have either not endeared or abandoned in the past 10 years. Given PTI’s humanitarian record, this is achievable.

Long after this Parliament runs its term, 2013 will be remembered for cornering PTI into KPK and expecting it to deliver in extremely hostile and non-cooperative environments. The PML-N holding out an olive branch to PTI in KPK would be an ideal situation, but there is a familiar paradox? If PTI fails, it will take down PML-N with it. If PTI succeeds, so would PML-N. Many years hence, either the dream of a “Naya Pakistan” will be laid to rest in favour of status quo or PTI will manage to salvage enough pride and performance to re-emerge, as the strongest reformist party of the country.

    The writer is a retired army officer, current affairs host on television and political economist.