The elections have gone well and the electoral frenzy is declining fast. The turnout was high, young people voted in large numbers and the idea of democracy seems more strongly rooted than ever before. The people have given their mandate, despite the fact that accusations of rigging persist. In Karachi, it was obvious; there are reservations about some other constituencies as well. Hopefully, the Election Commission of Pakistan would sort these out in due course.

Pakistan, however, should be proud of most aspects of Elections 2013. It has been acknowledged by well reputed international observers as credible and fair. There is recognition and even admiration about the amazing courage of Pakistanis. Indeed, they should celebrate the new era when one elected Parliament succeeds another.

Also, it is important that the winners and losers of the elections establish a respectful working relationship with each other. It is a healthy sign that most of the parties of the previous government have reconciled and conceded defeat. Nevertheless, statements by the leader of party representing urban Sindh are deplorable; his utterances have rightly attracted unanimous condemnation from all segments of society. There is need to strengthen a culture within which adversity is accepted with dignity.

At this point, the system needs the cooperation of all political parties. The majority party should take into consideration the views of the smaller ones as well. Everyone must feel that they have a stake in the political process and can influence and steer decision making in the right direction. There is need for continued party-to-party interactions, whereby major decisions should be consensus based, rather than whimsical political opinions.

It is refreshing that the Prime Minister-elect is busy in symbolic acts of reconciliation both at home and abroad. He called on the hospitalised leader of the second largest winning party, PTI, gave him a bouquet and offered to “bury the hatchet”. On the external side, he invited Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh to join his inaugural ceremony. That was a clear message to the Indian leadership that he was serious in normalising ties.

However, the Indian PM who is known for harbouring an ambition to leave behind a legacy of constructing sustainable peace between the two countries, he fell prey to the pre-electoral compulsions and declined to attend the ceremony. Hopefully, the post-elections 2014 government in India would be at more ease to pick-up the threads. PM Singh has certainly missed the bus.

Nawaz Sharif too is known for his enthusiasm to normalise relations with India. However, the Pak-India relationship is too complex, marred by multi-dimensional issues that can neither be pushed under the carpet, nor wished away. A caution is due; misplaced romanticism for friendly Pak-India ties certainly needs to be moderated with realism. A concerted effort should be made for a slow but concrete progress, giving due emphasis on consolidating the gains. If the new governments of Pakistan and India are able to arrest and reverse the trend of one step forward and two back backwards in Pak-India relations, it would be a significant achievement.

Notwithstanding the limited success, these gestures by Nawaz Sharif have been widely appreciated and he stands on a high moral pedestal. He has certainly graduated from a politician to a statesman, having the capacity to balm the wounds of the nation.

More so, the other major challenges for the new Pakistani government will be the provision of good governance and improving the economy. The 18th Amendment limits the size of the federal cabinet. Though a leaner government is certainly much more efficient and effective; it does not augur well with the realpolitik of coalition making. It seems that PML-N’s leadership is under immense pressure to accommodate a big number of party heavyweights, the won over independents and coalition partners from the smaller provinces. Though it does not need much effort to muster the requisite numbers, the PML-N’s compulsions of government forming in smaller provinces, has generated stress to accommodate those representing the smaller provinces in the federal government. Nevertheless, its robust mandate means that the smaller parties or individuals joining it will have little power to play tricks, as they did with the outgoing government.

It would be appropriate to begin with fixing the economy. To achieve meaningful economic indicators, a comprehensive approach should include: structural reforms, broadening of the tax base, enhancing tax-to-GDP ratio, reforming public sector procurement and work services procedures as well as meaningful austerity. So far, the federation earns and provinces spend; this has induced a culture of irresponsible spending at provincial level. So, the responsibility of tax collection needs to be further devolved to the provinces. Certainly, Pakistan needs economic growth and development. The issues directly related to economic recovery are militancy and energy shortfall. And there may be no cut and dry solution to these menaces.

While handling the global jigsaw, a government with a decisively populist mandate is well poised for resetting its relationship with the US; issues like drone attacks have caused much resentment. Now as Secretary of State John Kerry is coming to Pakistan with fresh proposals on the drone employment strategy, there is a need for concrete homework for finding a win-win solution to this sticky and tricky issue. Pakistan’s people do not wish to be lied to any longer. There is a need to harness the uncontrolled anti-American public frenzy and bridge the gap between public sentiment and state policy. The perception shared by a majority of Pakistanis that their leadership is helpless while conducting interstate business with the US needs to be corrected through visible practical steps.

Nawaz Sharif has recently spoken about talking to the Taliban. The drawdown deadline of 2014 is not far away. There is a need to move on this track swiftly, yet cautiously. Contacts with the Taliban should systematically graduate to a level where the Afghan Taliban are inducted into the Afghan political process in a transparent manner and Pakistani Taliban denounce violence.

In this context, there is a need to conduct our diplomacy with professional acumen for managing Pak-Afghan relations. The new Prime Minister has a rich experience of Afghan affairs, as he had very ably managed the things in the wake of Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan. He should develop personal rapport with President Hamid Karzai and follow a proactive and initiative-driven policy.

Likewise, Pakistan’s regional and global reintegration is long overdue. Now with the political transition in the offing, the world is reaching out to a democratically oriented Pakistani leadership. The new government needs to reciprocate with the same warmth and seize the opportunity. For over a decade, we have been fighting on multiple fronts simultaneously; it is time to close the fronts and move forward for peace and prosperity.

The writer is an academic and a freelance columnist.