Pak Affairs

Nawaz Shraif wants to be Prime Minister for third time

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) Quaid Nawaz Sharif said he seeks to change a constitutional two-term limit so he can serve a third time. In an interview with Wall Street Journal, he said he isn’t in a hurry. “I want the present government to complete its term,” he said. Mr. Zardari’s government was elected last year for up to five years.

He said that he is ready to work with the government now that President Asif Ali Zardari has met key demands — and that he hopes to take charge again as prime minister after elections, which could be as many as four years away.

Zardari agreed Saturday to end federal rule in Punjab, Mr. Sharif’s home province, and earlier this month bowed to the opposition’s demand that he reinstate the former Supreme Court chief justice, ending a debilitating political crisis.

Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, left, and opposition leader Nawaz Sharif, right, after their meeting near Lahore on March 22. “Now, since the reconciliation efforts have been started, we are ready to establish a working relationship with the government,” Mr. Sharif told The Wall Street Journal.

Mr. Sharif has emerged from the turmoil as Pakistan’s most powerful politician — with political control of Pakistan’s most populous province and, according to opinion polls, more popular than any other leader in the country.

Mr. Sharif, 59 years old, also called for a national solution in dealing with the country’s problems, which include a rising Islamist insurgency and an ailing economy. A more conservative politician than Mr. Zardari, Mr. Sharif has the support of some Islamist elements but is still broadly pro-Western. “No one party can meet the tough challenges confronting the nation,” he said. “We cannot afford politics of confrontation.”

Mr. Zardari had imposed executive rule in Punjab last month after the Supreme Court ruled that Mr. Sharif’s brother, Shahbaz Sharif, had to step down as chief minister because of irregularities in his election. At the same time, the court ruled that Nawaz Sharif was barred from holding elected office because of a prior conviction. (Nawaz Sharif held no elected office at the time of the ruling.)

The moved plunged the country into fresh political turmoil and the opposition was preparing for massive demonstrations in the capital, but Mr. Zardari ultimately backed down, saying the government would petition the court to strike down the rulings against the Sharif brothers. He also agreed to reinstate Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry as chief justice, another key opposition demand.

Addressing the national parliament Saturday, Mr. Zardari vowed to back the return of the provincial government led by Mr. Sharif’s party. “Pakistan has many challenges. What it doesn’t need is a challenge from within its democracy,” Mr. Zardari said.

Mr. Sharif spent seven years in exile, most of it in Saudi Arabia, before returning to Pakistan in November 2007. In February 2008 elections, his Pakistan Muslim League (N) party returned to power in Punjab and joined the coalition national government led by Mr. Zardari’s Pakistan People’s Party.

But the alliance fell apart after Mr. Sharif’s party pulled out from the central government, accusing Mr. Zardari of reneging on his pledge to restore Mr. Chaudhry.

Washington had long largely ignored Mr. Sharif out of suspicion of his alleged links with Pakistan’s religious conservatives, and backed Mr. Zardari, the widower of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. But the situation appears to be changing under U.S. President Barack Obama, which supports engaging with the opposition leader. Richard Holbrooke, the special U.S. envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan, and some other senior U.S. officials, have held meetings with Mr. Sharif.

“I have no problem working with the new administration in Washington,” Mr. Sharif said, recalling his close relationship with former President Bill Clinton during his second term as prime minister. “I appreciate the efforts of the Obama administration to reach out to Pakistani leaders, including me.-SANA

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Noreen Gill

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