ANDREA SEABROOK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Andrea Seabrook.
Few American allies are more critical to the Bush administration's fight against Islamic extremism than Pakistan. But the country's turbulent politics and President Pervez Musharraf's shaky hold on power have raised questions about how reliable a partner Pakistan will be. Those questions weren't resolved today, but we did get a hint. The party of assassinated former leader Benazir Bhutto named its candidate for prime minister: Yousaf Raza Gillani. He's all but certain to be elected to the position by the national assembly on Monday.
NPR's Philip Reeves is in the Pakistani capital Islamabad. And Philip, first, who is Yousaf Raza Gillani?
PHILIP REEVES: Well, he's a veteran member of the leadership of the Pakistan People's Party. He's been a speaker of parliament in the past. He was an aide to Benazir Bhutto. There's been speculation in Pakistan that the widower of Benazir Bhutto, Asif Ali Zardari, who now leads the party, will eventually seek to become prime minister, but to be eligible to do that, he needs to win a seat in a by-election in parliament. And so, it's possible that Gillani might not be holding this post for very long.
SEABROOK: For a little perspective, Philip, how much power does the prime minister have in the Pakistani government, especially compared with the president?
REEVES: Well, we don't know exactly how much power the prime minister in this new, yet-to-be-formed coalition government is going to have. If you go by the constitution, technically, the prime minister is the chief executive. But in the last eight years, all power has resided in the hands of Musharraf. Now, the new government's membership are talking optimistically about how power has shifted away from Musharraf and towards the prime ministership, and they use to justify that argument the mandate they received in the elections in February - which was very considerable, of course.
SEABROOK: So Philip, the government now is an alliance between the two parties that oppose President Musharraf - the parties of Bhutto and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. How is that going to work with President Musharraf still in power?
REEVES: Well, that is a major question. There's also another issue here, which is whether these two parties will be able to get along for very long. In the past, they have been enemies. But as for them getting along with President Musharraf, they do, broadly speaking, oppose Musharraf. Although in different ways, the Pakistan People's Party, which is the largest party in the coalition, is less bent, it seems, on outright confrontation with Musharraf, whereas the party of Nawaz Sharif talk in terms of getting Musharraf out of office altogether. We don't know which argument is going to prevail in this. But it is going to be one of the areas where the coalition itself might find itself under some stress.
SEABROOK: Now, Philip, bringing it back to a strategic U.S. interest. I understand the Pakistani leaders have been speaking publicly about altering the government's approach to fighting Islamic extremists in the tribal areas. What do these government leaders have in mind?
REEVES: Well, Washington's going to be watching this stuff very closely because the new government is talking in terms of putting more emphasis on negotiating with Islamist militants. I've been talking to officials who say they don't envisage talking to real hard-line militants - the real hard-core al-Qaida types, if you like - but they are interested in talking to the Taliban in the tribal belt and coupling that with the policy of development, of trying to integrate the tribal areas into mainstream Pakistan. And now, the issue, of course, is will the new government actually have, you know, significant influence in this area? By tradition and practice, the Pakistani military has usually controlled the policy. But whether they would let go of those leaders is very much open to question.
SEABROOK: NPR's Philip Reeves in Islamabad. Thanks very much, Philip.
REEVES: You're welcome.
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