Pakistanis ready, excited for May 11 election
Pakistan is on the brink of history. The nation is now just weeks away from one of the biggest tests of democracy in the South Asia nation's six decades of existence.
Never before has its elected government completed a term in office and peacefully transitioned into another freely elected administration. However, in just more than a month, Pakistan will try to do just that.
The election comes in the midst of continuing terror threats inside the volatile nation, where children as young as 8 have been arrested after being allegedly recruited to carry out bombings. At the same time, the economy within the nation is sputtering.
However, on college campuses throughout Pakistan, there's excitement about the future and the overwhelming sense that a historic moment is nearing. The election will be the biggest test of their fledgling democracy.
"We want the elections to be free and fair," Pakistani political leader Tariq Fatemi said. "We want the world to notice (that) we have finally grown up."
Fatemi, a former ambassador to the United States, says that beyond battling extremism, a peaceful transition would spur on other advancements within Pakistan.
"The first and foremost task is to strengthen the nation's economy, create job opportunities and set up better schools," he said.
Political signs litter the street of Lahore, a city of over 6 million residents very near the nation's border with India. For future voters there and across the country, though, getting to election day has many worried.
They're keeping a steady eye on the past. Political change in Pakistan has often been bloody. Ahead of its last national election, former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated in 2007, several decades after her own father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, was executed after a military coup in 1979.
"Let us hope this election goes well," human rights attorney Asma Jahangir said. "I can see a lot of bloodshed, which is very much in the cards. I hope it doesn't happen."
Whoever ends up winning the May 11 election will face a long list of challenges. Pakistan's population of 180 million is exploding, and basic services like clean drinking water, education and energy are struggling to keep up.
Blackouts are a daily occurrence even in the country's largest and most populous cities, which hurts the Pakistani economy even more. Natives are extremely concerned that could lead to even more dire problems.
"This has created so much unemployment in Pakistan," college student Zilleh Uma said. "Due to this unemployment, the terrorism has increased day-by-day because if people have no money to eat (or) to get education, he will go and be utilized in the hands of terrorist groups."
Security, obviously, is the other major issue facing Pakistan, especially with American troops pulling out of neighboring Afghanistan in 2014. The war there, which Pakistan was an ally of and was partially fought by drones in the nation, is extraordinarily unpopular.
"I'm convinced drones actually serve the purpose of insurgents," Fatemi said. "It provides them with the blood from which martyrs emerge."
Despite the challenges and hardships, May 11 is a day of optimism for most Pakistanis. They hope it’s the first step towards a better and safer Pakistan.
"My vote is registered 600 kilometers from this place, but I will go," Awais Ahmed Malik, a college freshman, said. "I will vote."