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ON the surface, Pakistan is beset with challenges, but a deeper look reveals that its fundamentals are strong. Independence Day for Pakistan is a time for introspection.
Have old challenges been contained, have new ones arisen, are there opportunities on the horizon? The score card has been mixed. Terrorism became a rising threat since the unpopular invasion of Afghanistan. It persists, though alarmist apprehension has not been borne out.
This reflects the difference between perception and reality when it comes to Pakistan. On the surface, the country is beset with difficult challenges: terrorism; political uncertainty accentuated by discord between an assertive Supreme Court and the government; a fragile economy; an energy shortfall affecting the economy and which has led to public unrest; and pressures from America, India and Afghanistan.
But on the ground, the picture is different. The territorial presence of terrorists has been reduced as have been terrorist incidents. This is not to say that the overall law and order situation does not require far more focus.
After the recent decade of military-dominated rule, the democratic system may have its flaws but is certainly raucous and vibrant while being kept under a magnifying glass by a very independent media. Unlike almost anywhere else in the Muslim world, all shades of opinion and religious parties are represented in the parliamentary process.
The Supreme Court, which has sent one prime minister home and may do it again with his successor, has become as important a player as the military. Some view this as a healthy check on an always powerful executive. Others wish it would follow the precepts of United States Supreme Court justice John Roberts who, despite his conservative reputation, cast the deciding vote to save President Barack Obama's healthcare bill.
He wrote: "It is not our job to protect the people from the consequences of their political choices." This judgment was, however, handed down after some 300 years of independence.
The economy may be fragile but an unprecedented rise in overseas workers' remittances, estimated at US$16 billion (RM49.6 billion), provides a cushion. The energy shortfall acts as a brake on productivity across the industrial and agricultural spectrum.
But as the two recent widespread blackouts in India have shown, this is a phenomenon common to South Asia as with many other countries.
The political impact may be reflected in the next election, although the record of no previous government, civilian or military, stands out in the resolution of energy issues.
In the field of foreign relations, there have been some gains. For most of the year, relations with America were at their lowest ebb, with the overland transit route for military supplies to Afghanistan closed.
With the reopening of that route, tensions have been reduced, economic assistance restarted and efforts to work together for a stable transition in Afghanistan recommenced.
Pakistan has gone the extra mile to improve relations with India and New Delhi has reciprocated to some degree. Vladimir Putin's imminent visit, the first by any Russian president, may herald an overdue adjustment to regional realpolitik. China remains the most reliable and supportive ally.
Relations with Afghanistan have always been problematic and not made easier by Afghan apprehensions as the US/International Security Assistance Force/North Atlantic Treaty Organisation drawdown accentuates.
However, this has brought into focus the real meaning of President Hamid Karzai phrase of the two countries being "conjoined twins", namely, that the two countries must find a way to co-exist.
While critics erroneously allege that Pakistan wants influence in Afghanistan for strategic depth, in fact, Pakistan provides this strategic depth to its neighbour, hosting five million refugees for more than three decades, providing free medical assistance in its government hospitals to poor Afghans, road and rail links, and a network of ethnic ties.
Pakistan also has to be seen in the context of regional and international developments.
Most of the Muslim world is in flux. The outcome of the Arab Spring is uncertain and stability still an objective.
In this global context, Pakistan is a more stable country than many others as well as a self-sufficient exporter of major cereal commodities. Lacking the fossil fuel reserves of its Middle East neighbours, its people have had to become more hard working and industrious.
Pakistan and its people continue to demonstrate their prime characteristic of resilience.
What they deserve above all else in the next year of their hard-won independence is that their leaders put their country's interests before their personal, party or institutional interests and work together in the nation's cause. Once Pakistan puts its house in order, the sky should be the limit.
The writer is a former Pakistani diplomat