A Milestone on the Road to Democracy
After months of turmoil, including the death of an important national figure, Benazir Bhutto, and the civil unrest that followed, Pakistan has successfully carried out a critical election -- balloting that was a milestone in our nation's 60-year history.
Pakistan's transition to democracy is essential to achieving reconciliation among our people. The government worked tirelessly to ensure that Monday's vote would be free, fair, transparent and peaceful. A broad range of new procedures were put in place -- such as the public counting of ballots at each polling station -- to make certain that this would be the fairest election ever held in Pakistan.
The historical significance of this election makes this the right moment for an honest discussion of the challenges and opportunities confronting both Pakistan and the United States, whose interest in a stable, democratic government in Islamabad is matched by that of the Pakistani people.
Our nation faces three main tasks: defeating terrorism and extremism; building a stable and effective democratic government; and creating a solid foundation for sustained economic growth. Because these goals are shared by the vast majority of Pakistanis, I am certain we can and will accomplish them, and I stand ready to work with the newly elected Parliament to achieve these objectives.
Do we still face challenges? Of course. Do great opportunities lie ahead? The answer is an emphatic yes. Our economy is strong -- and growing stronger. Our armed forces are dedicated, professional and committed to maintaining both public order and the integrity of our political system. Most important, the overwhelming majority of our 160 million people are firmly committed to a moderate view of Islam and to the national prosperity that only modernization can bring.
On terrorism, let me be perfectly clear: Pakistan faces and fights this menace with full dedication. How could we not? Al-Qaeda and its affiliates have declared war on the civilized world, and the moderate government and people of Pakistan are prime targets. Some have questioned our commitment to the fight against extremism. In fact, more than 1,000 Pakistani troops have lost their lives fighting al-Qaeda and Taliban forces over the past four years, and 112,000 troops are fully engaged in the regions along our border with Afghanistan. We will continue to work closely with our longtime American allies in our common struggle to rid Pakistan and the world of militant extremism.
But as the U.S. experience in Iraq has shown, military force alone is not sufficient. A successful counterinsurgency requires a multi-pronged approach -- military, political and economic. Our political strategy emphasizes separating terrorists from those citizens living in the regions bordering Afghanistan. Our economic strategy is bringing education, economic opportunity and the benefits of development to those same areas. As history has clearly taught us, when people see improvement in their daily lives and the lives of their children, they turn away from violence and toward peace and reconciliation.
But our success will require the continued support of the United States. I would ask Americans to remember that building democracy is difficult in the best of conditions; doing so in a complex country such as Pakistan -- with its uneasy political history, with its centuries-old regional and feudal cleavages, and with violent extremists dedicated to the defeat of democracy -- is even more challenging. As history has shown, a peaceful transition to democracy requires the leadership of government and the willingness of the population to embrace democratic ideals. The people of Pakistan on Monday demonstrated that willingness; now it is time for government leaders to work together and do our part.
The writer is president of Pakistan.