Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf swore in Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani on Tuesday as two senior US officials arrived for talks that included Pakistan’s role in the US-led campaign against terrorism.
The new National Assembly overwhelmingly backed Gilani, a top official from assassinated opposition leader Benazir Bhutto’s party, to become Prime Minister in a vote on Monday.
In an apparent snub to the increasingly isolated Musharraf, Bhutto’s widower, Asif Ali Zardari, and their son, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, who together lead her Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), declined to attend the oath-taking ceremony at the presidency.
Gilani called for political parties to cooperate to solve looming problems, especially economic difficulties.
“All forces have to get together and bring the country out of these crises,” Gilani, standing beside Musharraf, said.
Musharraf’s popularity has largely evaporated over the past year and his political allies were soundly beaten in the February elections won by Bhutto’s party weeks after she was assassinated. Musharraf, a vital US ally in the campaign against terrorism, has dismissed calls to step down. He offered Gilani support and also urged political forces to work together.
“A difficult era in terms of terrorism, extremism and the economy is ahead,” he said.
Pakistan’s main stock index set a new life high in intra-day trade on hopes for stability but Standard & Poor’s maintained its negative outlook on Pakistan, saying the country faced tough decisions over its growing fiscal deficit.
US President George W. Bush telephoned Gilani to congratulate him, an official said, while British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and the European Union presidency also offered congratulations and support.
US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte and Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher arrived in Pakistan earlier and held talks with Musharraf, Zardari and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, whose party came second to Bhutto’s in the election and is joining its coalition government.
Negroponte is due to meet Gilani on Wednesday.
Analysts said the US was keen to make contacts with Pakistan’s new leaders. Some have also spoken of the need to hold talks with the militants behind a wave of suicide attacks.
But this has raised questions about Pakistan’s strategy in the fight against militancy, especially with Musharraf’s power ebbing.