New Pakistan PM Takes Reins Amid Challenges Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf pledges support for the country's new government, calling it an era of real democracy. But Pakistan's incoming prime minister, former parliament speaker Yousaf Raza Gilani, faces a truly daunting task.
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New Pakistan PM Takes Reins Amid Challenges

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New Pakistan PM Takes Reins Amid Challenges

New Pakistan PM Takes Reins Amid Challenges

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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf today pledged support for the country's new government, calling it an era of real democracy. But Pakistan's incoming prime minister faces a truly daunting task. The country is in the throes of a relentless bombing campaign by Islamist militants; extremists have been growing stronger in the tribal areas; the economy's a mess.

The Pakistan Peoples Party, once headed by the late Benazir Bhutto, will lead Pakistan's new coalition government. Now, it's named its choice for the prime minister's job.

NPR's Philip Reeves reports from Islamabad.

PHILIP REEVES: Anyone waking up at Pakistan's capital today could easily have concluded war had broken out. Fighter jets streaked across the clear, blue sky. It's Pakistan's National Day. The military strutted its steps and paraded its hardware through Islamabad. But Pakistan's new ruling political parties are the ones really celebrating.

U: Pakistan Peoples Party has nominated...

REEVES: The Pakistan Peoples Party has finally named its candidate for prime minister. His name is Yousuf Raza Gilani.

M: He was a very close aide of Benazir Bhutto. He was a speaker of Pakistan's National Assembly for five years.

REEVES: Hamid Mir, an executive editor at Pakistan's Geo TV, knows Gilani well. He recalls the several years that Gilani spent in prison during Musharraf's rule on what he says were politically motivated charges.

M: Some intelligence agencies, they tried to blackmail him. They wanted him to change his loyalties, but he refused, so he is very loyal to his party, and that's why he is now prime minister of Pakistan.

REEVES: Tomorrow, Gilani's nomination's due to be confirmed by Pakistan's newly elected National Assembly, followed by his swearing-in on Tuesday. Among those voting for him will be the party of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif.

In the past, Sharif's party has been arch enemies of the Pakistan Peoples Party. Now, it's a coalition partner. Husain Haqqani, a former adviser to Benazir Bhutto, believes the country really is changing.

M: For the first time in Pakistan's history, Pakistani political parties have learned to listen, that instead of allowing somebody else to manipulate them into fighting each other, it is better for them to work together in laying the foundations of constitutional and democratic rule.

REEVES: But how long will Gilani hold the prime minister's job? Many believe Gilani's only keeping the chair warm for another man, his party leader, the widower of Benazir Bhutto, Asif Ali Zardari. Hamid Mir is not so sure.

M: I don't think that this is a stopgap. I know that Asif Ali Zardari is going to contest election in the coming few weeks. He will become member of the National Assembly, but Mr. Gilani will remain prime minister of Pakistan for five years.

REEVES: There's a mood of cautious optimism among Pakistan's once-fractious political party that's now assuming power. But how long will it last?

REEVES: National Assembly or Provincial Assembly elections (unintelligible).

REEVES: Much will depend on this man. President Musharraf, in his speech at today's National Day parade, promised to give the new government his full support. However, rough waters may lie ahead. Some within the coalition are willing to cooperate with Musharraf. Others, like Nawaz Sharif, speak of driving him out. All have agreed to ask parliament to restore judges sacked by Musharraf who might invalidate his reelection as president. Musharraf may put up a fight.


REEVES: Much will also depend on these people, the soldiers strutting their stuff today. Under its new chief of staff, General Ashfaq Kiani, Pakistan's army has withdrawn from day-to-day politics. Political analyst Parekh Fatami(ph) believes it will, however, still be a major plan in policymaking.

M: I think the army will continue to play a critical role on national security issues, especially those pertaining to relations with Afghanistan, the war on terror, Pakistan's nuclear program and to some degree, even relations with India.

REEVES: Pakistan's new government has its own views on how to fight the war on terror. Sardar Asif Ahmad Ali served as foreign minister under Benazir Bhutto. He's in the running to get the job again. Like many now lining up for a role in Pakistan's new government, he favors dialogue with militants in Pakistan's tribal areas.

M: Some elements of the extreme fundamentalists, we will not be talking to. Those who are destroying our cities are attacking civilians. We will not talk to them. But (unintelligible), yes, we feel that we need to talk to them; we need to talk to the Taliban as well.

REEVES: Philip Reeves, NPR News, Islamabad.

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