Prospective Pakistan Prime Minister Gives Conflicting Views on War on Terror

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman and this is "The World", a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI, and WGBH Boston. Nawaz Sharif, the man who will most likely be Pakistan's next prime minister, says he has two priorities: boosting his country's economy, and bringing peace to Pakistan. The United States might want to pay close attention to that second point and how Shariff may impact the fight against terrorism. Nawaz Sharif's party looks set to claim victory in Pakistan's parliamentary elections this weekend and he's been in power before.Sharif served as prime minister twice in the 1990s before he was ousted in a military coup and forced into exile in Saudi Arabia. Journalist Beenish Ahmed is in Islamabad. So he last held power in Pakistan in 1999, Beenish. Give us the before and after shot. What was Nawaz Sharif's reputation after his two terms as prime minister? And what are the expectations of him now?

Beenish Ahmed: Nawaz Sharif has had a rather patchy reputation. He has been seen as someone who is not really a coalition builder and someone who is very independently-minded. It was during his enure that Pakistan first tested its nuclear weapons and of course that was not looked upon very favorably by the US and caused Pakistan to incur steep sanctions. So he is sort of a wild card individual.

Werman: So there has been so many questions in the last twenty-four hours, what this could mean for the US obviously. The US has a kind of a bad relationship with Pakistan right now.

Ahmed: I think that's still really unclear. While on the campaign trail, Nawaz Sharif made a number of rather acrimonious statements towards the United States. He said that he seek to negotiate with the Taliban and even hinted at ending Pakistan's part in the US-led war on terror. Since then he's sort of changed his stance. He came out today as saying that he would offer full support to the United States in its draw down from Afghanistan and would be willing to offer Pakistan roads and ports to help Americans send troops and supplies home.

Werman: What did he mean by "negotiate with the Taliban"?

Ahmed: He took a rather soft stance on ending militancy here because he likely knew that it would make it harder for him to campaign would he not make those sorts of concessions. We know that the three parties who took harder stances on the Taliban were attacked and shot down and even kidnapped, so I think Nawaz Sharif may have foreseen some of these kinds of assaults and therefore have been kind of shrewd by saying that he would not be as tough on the Taliban. But what he meant by that, to what extent he's willing to root out militancy in his term in office is unclear.

Werman: And what about his relationship to Pakistan's military? He was pushed out of office last time in a coup. What does that tell us about his ability to rein in extremist in Pakistan?

Ahmed: Nawaz Sharif has had a rather hostile relationship with the military in the past. Of course that may change a little bit now that General Pervez Musharraf who ousted him is now out of the picture, but the fact remains in Pakistan the foreign policy is largely set by the military and Pakistan will have a new top general in just a few months here, so I think he'll be starting on new because, of course, he's learned that it's not good to ruffle feathers with the military in Pakistan.

Werman: So Nawaz Sharif has gotten a majority of the vote. Does that necessarily mean he can easily get things done now in Pakistan? I mean what is the average Pakistani expecting from this politician who also happens to be a multimillionaire?

Ahmed: I think there are big expectations for Nawaz Sharif. He has set those expectations himself by saying that he would really improve things in Pakistan in terms of infrastructure and in terms of the economy, in terms of creating jobs. Pakistan is at a point where they are up to twelve hours of power outages a day, where there's widespread disease just because of a lack of clean water. I think that he's off to a decent start having won a sizable number of seats in the National Assembly, and I should also mention that the Karachi Stock Exchange soared to a record-high number today, so it sort of goes to show that businesspeople and investors are interested in what Nawaz Sharif has to offer.

Werman: Encouraging, but it sounds like he's got a long road ahead of him. Beenish Ahmed, thank you very much.

Ahmed: Thank you.