Prime minister, others plan talks with militants
ISLAMABAD – Mamnoon Hussain was sworn in as Pakistan’s new president Monday, replacing Asif Ali Zardari, who becomes the first democratically elected president in the nation’s history to complete a full term.
Hussain’s swearing-in came as leaders of more than a dozen political parties gathered at a conference led by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and agreed to negotiate with militant groups in the lawless tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, groups that have sought to topple the government.
In telephone calls to news media, Taliban spokesman Shahidullah Shahid said his group welcomed the government’s offer of talks and would convene within a few days its central council, which would form a team to negotiate and formalize its demands.
The presidency is largely ceremonial in Pakistan and the president is chosen by national and provincial lawmakers. Zardari, 58, the widower of assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, stepped down Sunday after an honor guard ceremony officiated by the armed forces.
Hussain, 73, a businessman from Karachi and a former state governor, has close ties to Sharif and his Pakistan Muslim League-N party.
Sharif was elected in June on a pledge to bolster security and improve Pakistan’s beleaguered economy. Once in office, he outlined his preference for peace talks over military strikes. Major political parties’ support for that approach Monday should give Sharif the political cover he needs to move ahead.
The parties expressed “full confidence” in the prime minister’s efforts and called on the federal government to “initiate the dialogue with all stakeholders forthwith” in a six-point communique passed at the conference, held at the prime minister’s residence.
Army chief Gen. Ashfaq Kayani told the attendees that the government and armed forces were on the same page in their approach to tackling terrorism, local media reported. The conference participants also were concerned that the international community didn’t fully acknowledge the sacrifices made by the Pakistani people in countering terrorism.