Pakistan’s ruling politicians often claim to have overseen a new dawn in the past year — thanks to the milestone in the country’s journey towards democracy set by historic parliamentary elections.

Yet, the disappointment over the failure in beginning to tackle overly pressing issues has only reinforced the impression of the south Asian country living with just half a hope.

The year 2013 saw the first ever peaceful civilian political transition in May when one elected government completed its full five-year term and peacefully handed over authority to another. For a country that has lived under military rule for almost half of its existence, that was a significant achievement. Nawaz Sharif — the then prime minister who was removed in a 1999 military coup, led by General Pervez Musharraf — made history when he returned as Pakistan’s Prime Minister for the third time and became the first politician to achieve such a feat. To many, Sharif’s return is more than a mere sliver lining for a country where democratic institutions such as the parliament, courts and civil society have increasingly pressed for civilian values.

Yet, the journey that appears to have finally set the pace for Pakistan’s sustained democratisation ironically continues to disappoint many. Notwithstanding the significance of the political transition, many Pakistanis have a right to remain unimpressed over the continuing challenges surrounding their daily lives.

Sharif’s mandate has given him a chance to begin tackling the most pivotal issues faced by Pakistan — notably, the aggravation surrounding security conditions and a lacklustre economy. These are profound challenges, which are in clear need of an equally profound treatment and where failure to act could deeply undermine Pakistan’s future. But clearly, the early signs are unimpressive.

Sharif’s electoral victory saw him make a promise to begin apparently controversial peace talks with Taliban militants. However, as the new year is set to dawn upon Pakistan, it has become abundantly clear that Taliban militants are just not willing to sit across the table with representatives from Pakistan’s ruling structure to discuss the terms to end a more than a decade-long conflict. Instead, the militants appear to believe that the path chosen by them to fight the Pakistani state will indeed pay off in the end.

Historical experience of other countries has shown that a state that faces a challenge to its existence from non-state armed actors, must be determined to fight out this menace. The contrary option of succumbing to the demands of such elements will eventually force a compromise that can endanger the very existence of such a state.

In some ways, the equally profound if not the greater challenge in 2013 came from the continuation of a significant economic decline surrounding the Pakistani state. Sharif clearly inherited a tumultuous economy — thanks to the decline in the previous five years led by former president Asif Ali Zardari’s Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). The PPP’s astounding defeat in the May 2013 elections appeared to have been caused by its failure to tackle tough economic challenges, ranging from addressing acute electricity shortages to new investments almost drying up.

Six months after his landmark victory, Sharif does not appear to have learnt from the PPP’s mistakes. Notwithstanding his widely known credentials as a leader who is in sync with the heartbeat of the economy, a variety of controversial policy choices has deeply eroded confidence surrounding Sharif’s government. Examples such as allowing Pakistan’s notoriously corrupt tax officials to gain first-hand access to any bank account across the country, for purposes of detecting undeclared wealth, suggest a lack of understanding of the country’s realities. More authority for the notoriously corrupt tax officials will only make them a bigger nuisance for the Pakistanis than they were before.

Similarly, by the end of 2013, increased electricity shortages in parts of Pakistan only evoked popular criticism of the government’s failure to deal with one of the most difficult issues confronting the country. While in the opposition during PPP rule, Sharif and many of his comrades from the Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) made it their political mission to frequently lament the government’s failure to act on the issue of shortage of electricity. Ironically, the year is coming to a close with a similar criticism surrounding the PML-N rule.

The year gone by has not been without some bits of good news though. For instance, the European Union’s decision to grant preferential trade access to Pakistan, promises to increase exports to one of the world’s biggest markets. Similarly on the political front, the smooth appointments of a new Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and the orderly appointment at the top tier of the Pakistan army, marked momentous events, which in the past exposed elected politicians to periods of uncertainty. Clearly, Pakistan is showing evidence of growing maturity.

Yet, these events cannot mask the pitiful conditions surrounding the lives of the poorest of the poor across Pakistan. Almost one third of the country’s population — by some accounts significantly more — comprises people who live below the poverty line. Equally challenging is the harsh reality of the large number of unemployed or illiterate people who have virtually no access to decent health care. These unimpressive elements must be tackled.

For Pakistan’s ruling politicians led by Sharif, it may be just too premature to celebrate the arrival of democracy. On the contrary, consolidation of civilian rule in place of military still keeps Pakistan hooked to just half a hope.

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