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Asia

Pakistan ends 2013 on a positive note

The year 2013 was good for Pakistan: the country saw a successful transition of power from one elected government to another; the level of Islamist violence dropped a few notches; and the economy improved considerably.

Comparatively, 2013 has been a better year for Pakistan, and also quite eventful. One of the major highlights was the May 11 parliamentary elections.

Democratic transition

The credit goes to former President Zardari for successfully organizing general elections and transferring power to elected legislators. For the first time in Pakistan's history, an elected government completed its term and was replaced by another - a triumphant achievement for a country where the military has ruled for more than thirty years collectively and the interim governments have a tendency to stick to power.

Nawaz Sharif (C), leader of the Pakistan Muslim League - Nawaz (PML-N) political party, casts his vote for the general election at a polling station in Lahore May 11, 2013 (Photo: REUTERS/Mohsin Raza)

Despite shortcomings, experts say Sharif's performance in 2013 was good

After becoming prime minister for his historic, albeit non-consecutive, third term, Sharif continued with Zardari's legacy of reconciliatory politics and invited all political parties to work with him.

Asia Riaz, co-director of the non-governmental Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development in Islamabad, believes that Sharif's government's greatest strength lies in its "accommodating approach" towards opposition parties. She added that, in the long term, this would strengthen the country's democratic culture.

Economy

According to economic experts, the five years of the previous government were disastrous for Pakistan's economy. In the first few months of 2013, the country was on the brink of bankruptcy. Before elections, Sharif had promised voters that he would resolve the country's protracted energy crisis and stabilize its economy. However, during the first three months of Sharif's tenure, the economy continued to show negative signs and much of the country faced power shortages.

But some experts say that the prime minister has shown commitment to resolving these issues, and that the economy is gradually improving. In that respect, Riaz praised Sharif's decision to travel to China soon after assuming office, where he signed energy and trade deals with the Asian economic giant.

Insurgency

But more than economic woes, what concerns most Pakistanis is the continued violence plaguing their country. In 2012, the Islamists conducted hundreds of militant attacks on civilians and armed forces, killing scores of people. In 2013, the level of violence dropped down a little.

After winning the May 11 elections, PM Sharif made it clear that his party would rather engage in "peace talks" with Islamists than launch military operations against them. Some experts say that it is probably because of the "reconciliatory approach" of the new government towards the Taliban that the number of suicide bombings and militant attacks in the country have thus decreased in 2013.

Critics of the government, however, are against any peace initiative with the Taliban. They believe that concession to the militants only emboldens them.

Former Pakistani Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud (C) sits with other militants in South Waziristan (Photo: REUTERS/Reuters TV/Files)

Analysts say that drone strikes alone cannot get rid of the militants

Peshawar-based development worker and political activist Maqsood Ahmad Jan believes the Pakistan's leaders are confused and have no clear-cut strategy on how to counter terrorism.

Islamabad and Washington continued to disagree on the effectiveness of drone strikes against militant Islamists in Pakistan's northwestern tribal areas. The Taliban received a major blow in November when a US drone strike killed the leader of the Pakistani Taliban Hakimullah Mehsud. The Pakistani government reacted angrily to the strike and the interior minister said it was "not just the killing of one person, it's the death of all peace efforts."

Irrespective of the dispute over the drone strikes, the US-Pakistani ties improved a great deal in 2013.

Ties with India

Experts also believe Islamabad's relations with Kabul and New Delhi have improved.

Sharif is a big advocate of friendly bilateral ties with India and his coming to power was one of the reasons behind the thawing of bilateral relations. Sharif sent out positive signals to New Delhi about his intentions vis-à-vis Indo-Pakistani ties. New Delhi welcomed his gesture. However, the bilateral "friendliness" was affected by sporadic border skirmishes in Kashmir.

"Every time there is an attempt to normalize relations, you see the number of terrorist attacks rise. It is an open secret that there are a number of actors in both Pakistan and India who do not want to see any improvement in the ties," Moeed Yusuf, a Pakistan expert at the US Institute of Peace, told DW.

Cricket fans, their faces painted with the Indian and Pakistani national flags, cheer during the first day of the second cricket test match between India and Pakistan at the Eden Gardens in Calcutta, India, Wednesday, March 16, 2005 (AP Photo)

2013 showed signs of improvement in Indo-Pakistani relations

2014 - A crucial year ahead

Analysts believe that peace and stability in Pakistan and the whole of South Asia will largely depend on Islamabad's level of cooperation with Kabul, New Delhi and Washington in the wake of the 2014 NATO pullout from Afghanistan. There could be more chaos in the region - particularly in Afghanistan and Pakistan - if Pakistan choses to lend support to the Taliban to counter Indian influence in its war-torn neighboring country.

India alleges that Pakistan provides support to the Taliban and is wary that the Islamists might regain power in Afghanistan after the NATO troops withdraw. The US and the Afghan government, too, blame the Pakistani military and its intelligence agency ISI for aiding the Islamists. Pakistan denies these allegations.