Pakistan on Monday inaugurated a new parliament dominated by opponents of President Pervez Musharraf who have vowed to crimp his powers and review his U.S.-backed policies against Islamic militants.
At stake is the future course and political stability of this nuclear-armed nation of 160 million people, which is struggling with economic problems as well as militants linked to the Taliban and al-Qaida.
Just Saturday, a bomb exploded at an Islamabad restaurant popular with foreigners, killing a Turkish woman and wounded 12 people, including four FBI personnel. And on Sunday, a missile attack targeting suspected militants in Pakistan’s tribal regions was said to have killed about 20 people.
In a brief ceremony in the National Assembly, more than 300 of the newly elected lawmakers stood and repeated the oath of office at the prompting of the lower house’s outgoing speaker.
Musharraf stayed away from the session, which marked the end of his eight-year domination of Pakistani politics. But the widower of slain opposition leader Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, the former prime minister whose government Musharraf ousted in a 1999 coup, watched from the gallery.
Bhutto’s party, now led by her husband Asif Ali Zardari, won the most seats in the Feb. 18 election, which delivered a resounding defeat to supporters of Musharraf.
Zardari’s Pakistan People’s Party plans to form a coalition with Sharif and a smaller group from the country’s militancy-plagued northwest.
The People’s Party has said its top priority will be to seek a U.N. investigation of the Dec. 27 gun-and-suicide-bomb attack which killed Bhutto, the highest-profile victim of the wave of violence sweeping Pakistan.
Coalition wants constitution amended
To reassert the primacy of parliament, the coalition aims to amend the constitution to strip Musharraf of his power to dissolve the assemblies and dismiss the prime minister. It has also said it will restore judges purged from the courts by Musharraf when he declared emergency rule last November.
Musharraf’s allies were routed in the elections partly because many Pakistanis blame the president’s friendship with the U.S. with fueling violence at home.
Saturday’s attack was the first in Pakistan’s quiet capital in several months, and the first targeting foreigners here in more than a year. The wounded included five U.S. citizens, among them the FBI workers.
“Four FBI personnel were slightly injured in the bombing attack in Pakistan,” said Special Agent Richard Kolko, an FBI spokesman. “The FBI is providing the necessary assistance to our employees and their families.”
Anger over U.S. attacks
Pakistanis have also expressed anger over U.S. attacks on militants in the country’s lawless tribal regions along the Afghan border, which often have tacit approval from Musharraf’s government. Osama bin Laden and other senior al-Qaida and Taliban leaders are believed to be hiding out somewhere in the regions.
Missiles that witnesses say came from an unmanned drone struck a suspected militant safehouse Sunday in the area. State television said the strike killed about 20 people.
Witnesses said a drone dropped seven missiles on the sprawling, mud-brick compound about three miles outside Wana, the main town in South Waziristan. Only U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan are known to operate unmanned drones in the region, and they have launched attacks over the Pakistani border before.