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Pakistan to Nominate New Prime Minister


The party that will lead Pakistan's new government will announce its nomination for prime minister later today. The Pakistan People's Party, now headed by Benazir Bhutto's widower, Asif Ali Zardari, says it's finished consultations and has settled on a choice. Whoever's name will be confirmed by a vote in the national assembly scheduled for Monday.

We're joined now from Islamabad by NPR's Philip Reeves. Good morning, Philip. Tell us what we know about who this new prime minister will be.

PHILIP REEVES: Well, I can tell you who it's not going to be. It's not going to be Mr. Zardari and nor will it be his coalition partner, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. And that's because neither man is eligible because they don't hold seats in parliament.

But there is strong speculation that whoever is named might be a stopgap until Mr. Zardari acquires a seat in a by-election and can take the job himself. The choice of prime minister has been dragging on for a month now, and it's been a controversial process. The man who initially appeared to be Zardari's choice was the party's president, Makhdoom Amin Fahim. There's been a significant dispute, though, over him within the coalition.

People felt that he was too close to the Musharraf administration. So the person nominated today may end up being someone else, and it may be someone from the Punjab, Pakistan's most prosperous and populated and powerful province.

STAMBERG: Yeah. Well, whoever it is, how much power is this new prime minister likely to have?

REEVES: We don't know how much power the new coalition government is going to have. Its members, though, are talking as if power has genuinely shifted to them because they have such a huge mandate from the public. They concede that Musharraf does still hold on paper significant powers, such as the right to dissolve parliament itself. But there would be an uproar here if he tried to exercise that right now.

Also the military, remember, has drawn back from politics in Pakistan now that Musharraf has left as army chief. So Musharraf can no longer be certain that the military would back him in a confrontation with the government. So the government's strength is still unknown. It's going to depend in part on the coalition itself and how united it proves to be. Its two main parties do have a history of conflict.

And Sharif, in particular, is intent on confrontation with Musharraf, whereas others, especially people in the Pakistan People's Party, appear to be against that.

STAMBERG: And in the middle of all this strife, what are the implications for this so-called war on terror?

REEVES: Broadly speaking, both the main parties who form the coalition government favor a change in emphasis in the approach to handling Islamist militants in the tribal areas of Pakistan, including the Taliban. They don't rule out military measures altogether, but they believe there should be a greater emphasis on negotiation and on building civil society and integrating the tribal areas into the rest of Pakistan.

Now, how much say this new government will actually have in this area remains to be seen. Although the army is withdrawn from politics, at least from the front line of politics, there are certain issues, like the war on terror, Afghanistan and, of course, Pakistan's nuclear policy, the military is likely to continue to seek to control.

STAMBERG: Thank you very much. NPR's Philip Reeves in Islamabad. Thanks.

REEVES: You're welcome.

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STAMBERG: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.
Nationally renowned broadcast journalist Susan Stamberg is a special correspondent for NPR.