A good first step!

ANY change in politics, irrespective of the degree of it, is invariably good for the people especially when it comes to good governance — as the people of Pakistan will undoubtedly find out soon when they go to the polls in January next year to elect a new government democratically.

President Pervez Musharraf stepping down as army chief, more out of political compulsions rather than personal choice, may indeed be "a good first step." But that is not enough to ensure that the country will now get the government it deserves.

Both Musharraf and others, foremost amongst them political opposition leaders like Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif who have returned from years of political exile recently, will have to consciously avoid pursuing the politics of vindictiveness to settle old scores.

There is no room and this is not the time to indulge in any petty political parochialism. Instead, now is the time and the opportunity to end political hostilities and ensure that national and public interest predominates this sphere.

However, for that to happen and for Pakistan to progress any further on the road to democracy, what is essential is that President Musharraf also lifts the constitutional emergency before January's scheduled parliamentary polls. Only then will the credibility of the new government and the mandate of the people be secure and beyond controversy.

Also, there must be a revival and a restoration of various democratic institutions, many of which have been disabused for decades by authoritarian and military regimes in Pakistan.

The judiciary and judicial processes that Musharraf has been so widely accused of trying to subvert in order to retain his political power at any cost, must also be allowed to regain their autonomy. Until that happens, the judiciary would be unable to function and serve as a vital instrument of check and balance in any new political dispensation within Pakistan.

After all, as all political parties and their leaders must realise, any modern civil society is judged by the range of civil liberties it promotes and guarantees to protect. So must it be in Pakistan.

What is equally imperative is that the electorate too realises that it should not be swayed too much or too easily by mere electoral rhetoric. What Pakistan really needs is a real democracy not a political masquerade. Only then, can the people of Pakistan really hope to get the government they deserve.

It may be too early for a season of optimism to set in throughout the country, but there is decidedly the rising public awareness that here is a crucial opportunity that must not be wasted.

What still needs to be ensured is that the political will of any government that comes to power is in full sync with the will and the aspirations of the people.

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