Many headaches ahead for new PM Nawaz Sharif

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 06 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 06 June, 2013, 2:02am


Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif called yesterday for an end to US drone strikes in the country's northwest, after lawmakers endorsed him for an unprecedented third term in office.

About 13 years after he was deposed in a coup and sent into exile, the 63-year-old was formally chosen by a vote in the National Assembly and later took the oath of office from President Asif Ali Zardari.

I will not rest ... until we are able to improve the economic situation
Nawaz Sharif

The country faces a daunting array of problems, from crippling power cuts to Taliban militancy, and the new prime minister said citizens should be in no doubt about the challenges that lay ahead.

Sharif has advocated peace talks with the Taliban, though the powerful military is said to harbour deep scepticism about the idea of doing deals with them.

He has publicly criticised the drone strike that killed Taliban deputy Waliur Rehman last week, echoing long-held Pakistani complaints that the US campaign violates national sovereignty.

Sharif used his first speech as prime minister to reiterate his concerns. "We respect the sovereignty of others and they should also respect our sovereignty and independence. This campaign should come to an end," he said, calling for a comprehensive strategy to root out extremism.

Missile strikes by unmanned US aircraft have been very unpopular in Pakistan, but Washington views them as a vital tool in the fight against Taliban and al-Qaeda militants holed up in Pakistan's lawless tribal areas.

Ties with Washington will be a key part of Sharif's tenure, particularly as Nato withdraws the bulk of its forces from neighbouring Afghanistan by the end of next year after more than 12 years of war.

Sharif has said Pakistan will co-operate with Nato as it pulls out, but warned that Washington must take Islamabad's concerns about drone strikes seriously.

On the economic front, Pakistan has suffered several years of weak growth and its currency has slid in value, while foreign exchange reserves have dwindled.

The country is still paying off an US$11.3 billion International Monetary Fund loan from 2008 and analysts have said it will need to go back to the lender for more to stave off a balance of payments crisis.

Sharif painted a bleak picture of the nation's finances, but said his government was determined to put things right.

"People should know that the country's economy is in a very bad state, which is beyond imagination, and we have to make payments worth trillions," he said.

"But I will not rest, nor will I let any member of my team do so, until we are able to improve the economic situation."

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang met Sharif during a visit to Islamabad a fortnight ago and linked growth in his country's restive western region to that in Pakistan.

Yesterday, Sharif said they had agreed to develop a road and rail network linking the western Chinese city of Kashgar in Xinjiang to Gwadar port in southwest Pakistan recently taken over by China.