Skip to main content

Pakistan vote the first step on a long road

By Robert Menendez, Special to CNN
May 13, 2013 -- Updated 1134 GMT (1934 HKT)
Imran Khan, head of Pakistan's Tehreek-e-Insaf party, leaves the hospital in Lahore, Pakistan, on Wednesday, May 22. Khan suffered spinal fractures and a head injury when he toppled from a forklift that was raising him up to a stage as he campaigned in Lahore for elections held on May 11. Victory in the elections went to Nawaz Sharif, a two-time former prime minister, and his party, the Pakistan Muslim League. Imran Khan, head of Pakistan's Tehreek-e-Insaf party, leaves the hospital in Lahore, Pakistan, on Wednesday, May 22. Khan suffered spinal fractures and a head injury when he toppled from a forklift that was raising him up to a stage as he campaigned in Lahore for elections held on May 11. Victory in the elections went to Nawaz Sharif, a two-time former prime minister, and his party, the Pakistan Muslim League.
HIDE CAPTION
High turnout, violence mark Pakistan elections
High turnout, violence mark Pakistan elections
High turnout, violence mark Pakistan elections
High turnout, violence mark Pakistan elections
High turnout, violence mark Pakistan elections
High turnout, violence mark Pakistan elections
High turnout, violence mark Pakistan elections
High turnout, violence mark Pakistan elections
High turnout, violence mark Pakistan elections
High turnout, violence mark Pakistan elections
High turnout, violence mark Pakistan elections
High turnout, violence mark Pakistan elections
High turnout, violence mark Pakistan elections
High turnout, violence mark Pakistan elections
High turnout, violence mark Pakistan elections
High turnout, violence mark Pakistan elections
High turnout, violence mark Pakistan elections
High turnout, violence mark Pakistan elections
High turnout, violence mark Pakistan elections
High turnout, violence mark Pakistan elections
High turnout, violence mark Pakistan elections
High turnout, violence mark Pakistan elections
High turnout, violence mark Pakistan elections
High turnout, violence mark Pakistan elections
High turnout, violence mark Pakistan elections
High turnout, violence mark Pakistan elections
High turnout, violence mark Pakistan elections
High turnout, violence mark Pakistan elections
High turnout, violence mark Pakistan elections
High turnout, violence mark Pakistan elections
High turnout, violence mark Pakistan elections
High turnout, violence mark Pakistan elections
High turnout, violence mark Pakistan elections
High turnout, violence mark Pakistan elections
High turnout, violence mark Pakistan elections
High turnout, violence mark Pakistan elections
High turnout, violence mark Pakistan elections
High turnout, violence mark Pakistan elections
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
33
34
35
36
37
38
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Pakistan's election Saturday has potential to be nation's first peaceful transition
  • Sen. Menendez: Despite violence, brave Pakistanis vote in record numbers
  • Pakistan's economy is in trouble and its role in regional conflict needs to change, he says
  • Menendez: Pakistan can rein in militant groups and contribute to regional stability

Editor's note: U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey, is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

(CNN) -- Never before in Pakistan's history has a parliamentary election resulted in a true democratic transition. Despite militant threats and attacks that left at least 21 people dead on election day, Pakistanis bravely voted in record numbers Saturday. 

While we're still waiting for official results, the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz party looks to have a clear mandate to steer the country forward for the next five years.

This is an important moment, but the challenges ahead are daunting. Democracy and the institutions of civil society remain as fragile as ever, with minorities especially vulnerable to persecution. A range of militants groups still enjoys safe haven throughout the country.  And the economy is in shambles.   

Sen. Robert Menendez
Sen. Robert Menendez

Now is the time for Pakistan's new leaders to grasp the nettle. It is time for the major parties to shift from campaigning to governing, consolidate democratic gains and tackle deteriorating security and economic conditions.

The stakes are enormous, and Pakistan's new leaders cannot afford to miss this moment.  A recent Pew poll found that roughly nine in 10 Pakistanis believe the country is on the wrong track.

This week's elections provided a voice for millions to cast their ballot for a better future, a democratic future. The United States should support this process and continue working toward a long-term relationship based on mutual goals.  

Pakistan today is buffeted by gale-force pressures: a long rivalry with India to its east, a bitter and bloody insurgency in its western tribal regions, a fragile transition in Afghanistan and twin financial and energy crises that burn at its core, leaving millions without power and businesses without access to credit. In the coming weeks, Pakistan may face a balance of payments crisis unless its new leaders take decisive action.

Deposed PM wins Pakistan election

There is no doubt that we are dealing with complicated issues in a volatile region. The United States has been working steadily with Pakistan to meet these challenges. With greater commitment and support from Pakistan's new leaders, we can build on existing areas of cooperation even as we press our interests.

There is still a great deal of mistrust that permeates this relationship. It's unacceptable that two years after the United States found and killed Osama bin Laden, the most noteworthy action taken to get the facts on how he came to be in Pakistan is the conviction of the doctor that helped us track him down.

We know that militant groups have taken refuge along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. And let's face it: when Americans hear about U.S. troops in Afghanistan under attack by insurgents who enjoy safe haven in Pakistan, they naturally see red.

Despite these challenges, the reality is the United States and Pakistan share common interests and need to work closely together. Now is not the time to cut and run but to renew our efforts to bring peace and stability to Afghanistan and to address the terrorist threat that afflicts both our nations.

Pakistan remains vital to any sustainable and peaceful outcome in the region. It can support genuine reconciliation efforts with the Afghan Taliban or undermine them. It can serve as the most cost-effective supply route for withdrawing our troops and equipment from Afghanistan or block their passage. And it can rein in militant groups that threaten India and halt the spread of nuclear weapons and technology or aid in their proliferation.

If ever there was an opportunity for Pakistan to advance regional peace and security, this is it.  The international community is working toward a coordinated transition in Afghanistan to mitigate the prospects of civil war as foreign troops depart. We need Pakistan's help to get this right. Without close cooperation, our efforts will be imperiled, and Pakistani fears of international abandonment will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The founder of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, once said: "The story of Pakistan, its struggle and its achievement, is the very story of great human ideals, struggling to survive in the face of great odds and difficulties." Pakistan's story is still being written, but its next chapter will be defined by action, not by words alone. 

This week's elections mark the beginning, not the end, of a long road. Pakistan's new leaders have an historic opportunity to provide real leadership and show that democracy can deliver. For their sake and ours, let's hope they rise to the challenge.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Robert Menendez.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1235 GMT (2035 HKT)
Frida Ghitis: Anger over MH17 is growing against pro-Russia separatists. It's time for the Dutch government to lead, she writes
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1227 GMT (2027 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says President Obama called inequality the "defining challenge" of our time but hasn't followed through.
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1157 GMT (1957 HKT)
Gene Seymour says the 'Rockford Files' actor worked the persona of the principled coward, charming audiences on big and small screen for generations
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1417 GMT (2217 HKT)
Daniel Treisman says that when the Russian leader tied his fate to the Ukraine separatists, he set the stage for his current risky predicament
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1642 GMT (0042 HKT)
Andrew Kuchins says urgent diplomacy -- not sanctions -- is needed to de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine that helped lead to the downing of an airliner there.
July 19, 2014 -- Updated 0150 GMT (0950 HKT)
Jim Hall and Peter Goelz say there should be an immediate and thorough investigation into what happened to MH17.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1507 GMT (2307 HKT)
Pilot Bill Palmer says main defense commercial jets have against missiles is to avoid flying over conflict areas.
July 20, 2014 -- Updated 1755 GMT (0155 HKT)
Valerie Jarrett says that working women should not be discriminated against because they are pregnant.
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1953 GMT (0353 HKT)
David Wheeler says the next time you get a difficult customer representative, think about recording the call.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1933 GMT (0333 HKT)
Newt Gingrich says the more dangerous the world becomes the more Obama hides in a fantasy world.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1011 GMT (1811 HKT)
Michael Desch: It's hard to see why anyone, including Russia and its local allies, would have intentionally targeted the Malaysian Airlines flight
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
LZ Granderson says we must remember our visceral horror at the news of children killed in an airstrike on a Gaza beach next time our politicians talk of war
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1206 GMT (2006 HKT)
Sally Kohn says now the House GOP wants to sue Obama for not implementing a law fast enough, a law they voted down 50 times, all reason has left the room.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1214 GMT (2014 HKT)
A street sign for Wall Street
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, John McCain and others want to scale back the "too big to fail" banks that put us at risk of another financial collapse.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 2016 GMT (0416 HKT)
Newt Gingrich writes an open letter to Robert McDonald, the nominee to head the Veterans Administration.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1601 GMT (0001 HKT)
Paul Begala says Dick Cheney has caused an inordinate amount of damage yet continues in a relentless effort to revise the history of his failures.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1404 GMT (2204 HKT)
Kids who takes cell phones to bed are not sleeping, says Mel Robbins. Make them park their phones with the parents at night.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1729 GMT (0129 HKT)
Buzz Aldrin looked at planet Earth as he stood on talcum-like lunar dust 45 years ago. He thinks the next frontier should be Mars.
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1804 GMT (0204 HKT)
Mark Zeller never thought my Afghan translator would save his life by killing two Taliban fighters who were about to kill him. The Taliban retaliated by placing him on the top of its kill list.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1518 GMT (2318 HKT)
Jeff Yang says an all-white cast of Asian characters in cartoonish costumes is racially offensive.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 0124 GMT (0924 HKT)
Gary Ginsberg says the late John F. Kennedy Jr.'s reaction to an event in 1995 summed up his character
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1641 GMT (0041 HKT)
Meg Urry says most falling space debris lands on the planet harmlessly and with no witnesses.
ADVERTISEMENT