After 42 days of bickering among political parties elected on Oct. 10 to Pakistan's National Assembly, a new Cabinet looks set to take office in Islamabad. This will mark Pakistan's first civilian government since General Pervez Musharraf took power in a bloodless coup in 1999. A Musharraf ally, Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali, 60, is expected to be elected Prime Minister by the National Assembly. The former chief minister of the province of Balokistan is a leading member of the pro-Musharraf Pakistan Muslim League (Quaid-E-Azam) and is likely to support the President's initiatives, including backing the U.S. war against terrorism and economic reforms at home.
That's a relief for Musharraf and for the Bush Administration, which was initially concerned about the success of Islamist parties in the election. A religious alliance known as Muteheda Majlis-e-Amal gained a substantial parliamentary minority as well as control of the provincial government in the North-West Frontier Province, which neighbors Afghanistan. The alliance has threatened to thwart U.S. efforts to capture al Qaeda terrorist suspects, but Musharraf and the new government can be expected to overrule them. Cooperation with the U.S. is crucial to ensure continued foreign aid flows to Pakistan's still-fragile economy.
Still, it won't be smooth sailing for the new coalition government, which will be ruling with a thin majority in the Assembly. Loud debates about Musharraf's near-dictatorial powers are likely as Pakistan continues to experiment with its brand of democracy.
By Naween A. Mangi in Karachi
Edited by Rose Brady