A week after Pakistan’s ruling party, the PPP, finally felt vindicated over a landmark verdict by the country’s Supreme Court, the country is rapidly being forced to confront deep-rooted questions over its past.

The verdict, which has lifted the morale for many of the PPP’s leaders and activists, concludes that a former Pakistan Army Chief, along with a former head of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), in 1990, had bribed politicians to secure an electoral defeat for the late Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

Almost five years after her tragic assassination in 2007, Benazir’s oft-repeated claim of being wrongfully kept out of public office in the 1990 elections, is finally proving true. However, this is just a part of a telling story that not only brought down Benazir in 1990 as the Muslim world’s first woman to head a government, but her political downfall also exposed the many weaknesses surrounding her ruling structure.

Benazir’s departure as Prime Minister under a presidential decree followed reports of General Mirza Aslam Beg, the then Chief of Army Staff, backed by his fellow senior generals, declaring Benazir and her regime as a security risk for Pakistan.

The army’s decision came after what many felt were the Benazir regime’s irresponsible choices on key fronts. These ranged from quietly passing on the details of some of Pakistan’s foreign intelligence operatives to foreign governments in countries where they were deployed, to preparing for acceptance of global safeguards surrounding the country’s nuclear programme. To date, many believe, the acceptance of those safeguards would have compromised Pakistan’s best security interests and, perhaps, even blocked the journey to its maiden nuclear tests in 1998.

While the distribution of public funds through intelligence channels to persuade politicians for changing loyalties was hardly a defensible act, it has to be seen in the overall context of a wider framework. Fundamentally, the 1990 episode was borne out of the failure of a ruling order to act in ways that may have ensured the protection of Pakistan’s best national results.

More than two decades later, it has now been left to Pakistan’s Supreme Court to hand down a verdict that may help Pakistanis reconcile with their past. Yet, in so doing, many Pakistanis will also closely examine their government now - also a PPP-led ruling dispensation - to chart a course for the future.

Though Pakistan’s present-day rulers will, probably, continue exploiting the opportunity offered by the 1990 events documented in the court’s ruling, they must do so after considering a two-pronged risk.

On the one hand, it is certain that once the proverbial Pandora’s box opens, defendants, including Beg and other senior generals, who have been dragged into the controversy, will simply not sit quietly. Instead, they will seek to present their viewpoint, no matter how embarrassing for Pakistan’s present-day ruling structure as well as the structure that ruled the country in 1990.

On the other hand, yet another opportunity, in the hope of rebuilding Pakistan’s democratic system, runs in the danger of being squandered irreversibly once again. If, indeed, the government turns the court decision into an opportunity for settling scores with the Pakistan Army, the country will risk being dragged into another period of uncertainty.

Tragically for Pakistan, a distinct pattern has emerged in the past four years since the PPP’s return to power under the leadership of President Asif Ali Zardari, late Benazir’s husband. Gaps such as the squandering of national resources through large-scale corruption and the failure to reform the country have all been justified in the name of a difficult adjustment to democratic rule. Herein lies the biggest threat to Pakistan’s future as a democratic state.

If, indeed, lessons are to be drawn from Pakistan’s difficult history, the Supreme Court’s verdict must become a powerful reminder of ways in which irresponsible conduct by elected governments can well demolish opportunities for a return to a stable, civilian order.

But Pakistan’s recent history hardly presents scope for optimism. The country’s ruling order under Zardari will likely refuse to see the light of the day, preferring instead to continue on its path without even remotely changing course. While some in the ruling camp may be heartened by this choice, their ability to win popular approval will only continue to be undermined. With or without the Supreme Court’s verdict, Pakistanis on the streets across the country largely appear to have lost faith in a ruling order that has failed to rise to popular expectations.

The writer is a political and economic analyst. This article has been reproduced from  the Gulf News.