Pakistan's Supreme Court on Friday made history by removing a ban on the country's former prime minister Nawaz Sharif running for political office.
The verdict comes a decade after Sharif was forced out of power by former president Pervez Musharraf in the last military coup witnessed in the country. The charge of 'hijacking' slapped on Sharif was among the most ridiculous and politically motivated events in Pakistan's chequered history.
And yet, Sharif and other leading politicians need to recognise both the opportunity and the challenge which they now face. Sharif himself left behind a hardly inspiring legacy during his two tenures as Pakistan prime minister. His government was widely known for its blind pursuit of political power, often disregarding the country's political and ethnic diversity.
Now, the supreme court under Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhary has proven its independence by removing the curbs upon the former prime minister. This comes after a two-year campaign by lawyers and social activists which saw Chaudhary restored back to his position after he was dismissed by Musharraf.
There is much enthusiasm in Pakistan for what many see as a new chapter to be written through undertaking a credible process of reforms. Sadly though, politicians, including Sharif, have yet to carve out a credible vision for the country's future.
Carving out such an image, however, is much easier said than done. At least three essential features of such a vision must emerge side by side for the now popular Sharif to further improve his credentials as the torchbearer of Pakistan's future.
First, a broad range of reforms within Sharif's political party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), are needed to open the door for a new wave of aspiring political leaders from low-income backgrounds.
A major challenge faced by Pakistan's leading political parties is the virtual absence of leading figures from economically disenfranchised backgrounds. The consequence of this challenge has presented itself in the shape of a failure to give space on the national political platform to individuals from poverty-stricken neighbourhoods and occupations. The outcome of this gap is a political framework that remains dominated by the elite.
Second, there must be a greater measure of personal and professional accountability in political parties to monitor the conduct of their leaders. A redefinition of important, but frequently ignored, parameters of conduct should include matters such as conflict of interest - an area that needs to be central to the way leaders are gauged.
Often, the refusal of major parties to force members to accept practices such as periodic declaration of their assets only creates added scepticism among the Pakistani public.
In a country where past rulers have been often tainted with widespread accounts of corruption, such a legacy adds to the disrepute of political parties and makes them far less attractive to the mass segment of the population.
In contrast, Sharif, emboldened by the relief given by the Supreme Court, can now move rapidly to force his compatriots in to accepting stronger standards of personal accountability. Such a choice will only improve his credentials and give him political credit in a way which is just not available to any other political leader or party.
Finally, the pace for the future must be set by Sharif in forcing leaders of his PML-N to become far more issue-oriented. If he succeeds, he will inevitably break new ground where others have failed. Pakistan's political parties have failed abysmally to successfully carve out an agenda which complies with the needs of the population at large.
Too often, debate surrounding important issues such as health care, education and employment opportunities for the poor, is taken over by issues of constitutional changes and rifts surrounding civil-military ties.
In Pakistan's controversial political history, it is of course relevant to discuss and debate such matters. But ultimately, it is the lives of common people which have to be placed at the centre of any political discourse.
For Sharif, there could not have been a more opportune moment to assert himself and push forward a new political agenda focusing on the rights of ordinary people, just when his comeback is being celebrated by his fellow politicians as an important national event.
- Farhan Bokhari is a Pakistan-based commentator who writes on political and economic matters.