Thursday 22 February 2018

Pakistan's new lawmakers sworn in

Among other challenges, Pakistan legislators face sorting out a weak economy and ongoing activity by extremists
Among other challenges, Pakistan legislators face sorting out a weak economy and ongoing activity by extremists

Newly elected members of Pakistan's National Assembly have been sworn in, officially marking the first transition of power between democratically elected civilian governments in the 66-year history of the coup-prone country.

Among the steep challenges the legislators will face: massive energy shortages that leave some Pakistanis without power for up to 20 hours a day; a badly ailing economy that might force the Muslim-majority nation to seek an international bailout; and ongoing militant activity by Taliban and other extremists whose violence has killed thousands in the past decade and badly strained Pakistan's alliance with the United States.

Arriving at the Parliament building in Islamabad on a bright, hot day under tight security, the lawmakers were immediately mobbed by reporters. Among those arriving was the incoming prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, whose Pakistan Muslim League-N handily won the May 11 elections. "We are facing many challenges, but God willing, we will overcome them," Mr Sharif said.

Outgoing Speaker of Parliament Fehmida Mirza solemnly administered the oath to incoming legislators at noon. Afterwards, lawmakers were called up to the front of the hall one by one to sign documents formalising their membership.

The PML-N won 176 seats in the 342-member lower house of Parliament and is expected to rule in an alliance with some independent legislators. The previous ruling Pakistan People's Party was crushed, earning just 39 seats.

Former cricket star Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf won 35 seats, and has pledged to act as a strong opposition. Mr Khan, who is still recovering after fracturing three vertebrae and a rib when he fell off a forklift in the last few days of the campaign, did not attend Saturday's session.

Mr Khan and Mr Sharif have both condemned the US use of drone strikes in Pakistani territory. Such strikes typically target al Qaida-linked militants or Taliban extremists that the US deems a threat, but Pakistanis view the strikes as a violation of sovereignty and believe they also kill many innocent civilians.

Mr Sharif and others want to try to resolve differences with the Pakistani Taliban in particular through peace talks, and the militant group had appeared amenable to that idea. But on Wednesday, a US drone strike killed the Pakistani Taliban's number two leader, Waliur Rehman, according to the militant group. By the next day, the Taliban said they would not participate in any negotiations.

A statement issued by the PML-N late Friday said Mr Sharif had expressed "deep disappointment" over the Wednesday drone strike. The statement called the strike a violation of Pakistan's sovereignty and international law. It did not refer to Waliur Rehman or the Pakistani Taliban.

The statement said a Sharif aide had conveyed his sentiments to the US Embassy. The US regards such missile attacks as legal, but President Barack Obama recently described plans to further restrict drone use in the future. According to the statement, the Sharif aide described the strike as especially regrettable since it came within days of Mr Obama's speech.

Press Association

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