|Historic Day in Pakistan|
|By MUHAMMAD LILA (@muhammadlila)||May 11, 2013, 7:05 AM|
Today, Pakistan is making history.
Not because of its militants, or the bomb blasts that have already killed at least 16 people.
Today, up to 85 million Pakistanis will take to the polls for the first ever democratic transition in the country's history.
Wait. Isn't Pakistan already a democracy? The answer: Just barely. The outgoing President is an ex-convict.
His wife, herself a leader, was assassinated.
Before that, the country's leader was a military general who took power by kicking out the previous Prime Minister, who – if you believe the polls – is set to rise from the ashes of exile once again.
The list goes on and on. You get the idea.
All this while Pakistan receives billions of dollars a year from the U.S. to contain a growing militancy, one that fuels the conflict in neighboring Afghanistan with fighters, food, and – literally – fuel for explosives.
The reasons to care are many: 68,000 Americans troops – and thousands more US contractors and civilians – are serving next door in Afghanistan.
Solving Afghanistan requires solving Pakistan. The two go hand in hand.
Osama Bin Laden was found here, living in a villa about an hour's drive from where I'm typing this note.
The man who helped identify him to U.S. officials now sits in a dark, dingy jail cell.
Al Qaeda's new leader, Ayman Al Zawahiri, is still here somewhere, likely hiding along the border, the State Department says.
And the war on terror? America needs Pakistan's help. More than 50,000 Pakistan troops have been killed since it began. U.S. drone strikes continue to create collateral damage.
Support for America is at an all-time low.
After more than a decade, the Taliban now operate freely, raising hundreds of millions of dollars through extortion, the drug trade, and kidnappings.
They openly wreak havoc on Pakistan's biggest city Karachi, home to 18 million people, delivering ransom notices in the middle of the night.
Despite all this, for the first time in Pakistan's history, an elected, civilian government will peacefully hand over control to another civilian government.
There has been violence. People have been killed. More will likely die. The Taliban have sent suicide bombers to "every corner" of the country, ready to strike. The Pakistani military is deploying more than 70,000 soldiers to stop them.
Despite the threats, Pakistanis are defying the Taliban and turning out in large numbers. At one polling station, our cameraman Nasir was nearly trampled by a group of village women demanding the right to vote. Bad for him. Good for Pakistan.
While we were out shooting footage at a polling station, the armed security guards on-site gave us permission to enter the women's only side of the polling station.
Many of the women had been lining up for over an hour, in the intense, nearly 100-degree heat. For some, voting is a festive occasion, a chance to dress up and celebrate being able to have a say in the country's next government.
At one point, our cameraman was nearly run over by a mob of women who barged inside the station, demanding their right to vote. Bad for him. Good for Pakistan.
New Government, New Opportunities
When the dust settles, Pakistan will have a new government, and America will have a new opportunity to rebuild a key relationship, in a key part of the world. And when it changes, the war on terror will likely change too.
The leading candidates have said they don't like the U.S. war on terror, and have vowed to wage it differently.
One, a cricketer turned rock star politician, says he'll pull out from the war altogether. Another says it's time for a complete rethink.
But today isn't about politics. It's about ordinary Pakistanis, fingers dripping in purple ink, who with a simple ballot, are demanding change.