Pakistan's New Leader Faces Uphill Battle

Prime Minister Gillani expected to choose diplomacy over force in war on terror

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, March 25, 2008 — -- Makhdoom Yusuf Raza Gillani, a scion of a leading political family, and firm ally of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, was sworn in Tuesday as the 22nd prime minister of Pakistan.

President Pervez Musharraf administered the oath at the presidential palace.

Soon after the oath-taking ceremony, supporters of the assassinated Bhutto raised signs with slogans proclaiming "Long live Bhutto," a name that has haunted the corridors of Pakistan's political elite for the last decade.

Gillani's own family has been in politics for at least three generations.

It struck many as ironic to see Musharraf administer the oath for the highest office of government to a person whom he had jailed for six years on charges of providing employment to "undeserving" people.

In the midst of obvious tension between the president and the prime minister's office, many in Pakistan wonder which of the two will prevail and who will fall first.

As for the new prime minister, his first order was to free all judges removed from office and placed under house arrest by Musharraf, including Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, whom Musharraf reportedly once called "scum of the earth."

In the midst of this tension between Musharraf and Gillani, many in Pakistan wonder which of the two will prevail and who will fall first.

Gillani started his political career in 1978 after the death of his father and has been associated with Bhutto's Pakistan Peoples Party for the past 20 years.

"He has been loyal to the party," said Gen. Talat Masood, a political analyst, "and brings with him a lot of administrative and political experience." Gillani has served both as a minister and speaker of the national parliament.

Monday was indeed a lucky day for Gillani . First, he was elected a prime minister by the parliament, and later, he flew to Karachi for his son's wedding to the daughter of another political leader.

On his first day in office, two powerful U.S. diplomats, Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte and Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher landed in Pakistan to show their support for the new government.

"It goes to show the importance of Pakistan as a crucial ally in the region and partner in the war on terror," said Masood. The U.S. diplomats reiterated their support to the democratically elected government.

The new coalition government, led by Bhutto's party, has raised calls to reshape policy regarding the war on terror. Many in the government have expressed reservations about using force instead of negotiating with suspected terrorists.

This change is likely to raise some eyebrows in the U.S., and many believe that one of the reasons for a visit by the U.S. officials at this time is to bridge these gaps in thinking between the American and Pakistani views.

Negroponte and Boucher also met with an outspoken critic of the war on terror, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who is also a coalition partner.

In addition to reshaping policy on the extremely unpopular war on terror, Gillani also faces the Herculean task of getting the economy back on track.

It won't be an easy task for a person who likes to wear expensive clothes to steer the country out of economic gloom. The majority of Pakistan's people are finding it hard to make ends meet.

" We have great hopes from the new government," said Mohammad Usman, a laborer working in Islamabad. "We hope they will do something good for the poor by bringing down the prices of everyday food."

In a country where 70 percent of the people live on less than $2 a day, a prime minister who wears designer loafers has a momentous task in taking his countrymen down the path of economic prosperity.