Sharif to take office for third term as Pakistan PM

ISLAMABAD (AFP) - Nawaz Sharif will take office as prime minister of Pakistan for an unprecedented third term on Wednesday with the country facing a daunting array of problems, from crippling power cuts to Taliban militancy.

Some 13 years after he was deposed in a coup and sent into exile, the 63-year-old will be formally chosen by a vote in the National Assembly before taking the oath from President Asif Ali Zardari later in the day.

But any joy at his own remarkable comeback will be short-lived, as Sharif sets to work on a mountain of challenges, starting with an energy crisis that has hamstrung the country's economy and made ordinary Pakistanis' lives a misery.

Sharif is expected to make a short speech to the National Assembly, where his Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) holds the majority of the 342 seats, setting out his view of the problems facing the country.

"He will talk about his priorities and his government's strategy to deal with the issues of crippled economy, loadshedding (power cuts) and law and order situation," PML-N spokesman Siddiq-ul-Farooq said.

"He will also take the assembly into confidence on steps that his government will take to uphold rule of law and democracy in the country by promoting politics of accommodation, sobriety, patience and tolerance."

Sharif is expected to make a longer address to the nation some time after taking the oath of office.

Years of mismanagement, under investment and corruption in the power sector have led to blackouts of up to 20 hours a day in the blistering heat of summer, when temperatures reach up to 50 Celsius.

Sharif has vowed to build new power plants to tackle the problem, which acts as a huge drag on the economy - shaving up to four per cent off GDP, according to the Planning Commission.

Analyst Imtiaz Gul said he expected a sober, conciliatory approach to government from Sharif.

"The enormity of the challenges that he faces and that confront Pakistan today will likely make him change his style of politics even if he does not want to," Gul said.

Another key challenge for Sharif will be dealing with the homegrown militants of the Pakistani Taliban, who have waged a bloody campaign against the state in recent years, killing thousands of their fellow citizens.

The PM-in-waiting has said he wants peace talks with the Taliban, but last week their second-in-command was killed in a US drone strike and moreover the all-powerful military has voiced deep scepticism about the idea of doing deals with the militants.

Sharif publicly criticised the drone strike that killed Taliban deputy Waliur Rehman, seen as a relatively moderate voice in the movement, echoing long-held Pakistani complaints that the US campaign violates national sovereignty.

Ties with Washington will be crucial, as always for Pakistan, particularly as NATO withdraws the bulk of its forces from neighbouring Afghanistan by the end of next year after more than 12 years of war.

PML-N scored a comfortable win in the May 11 general election as Zardari's Pakistan People's Party (PPP) was routed, blamed by voters for five years which saw crippling power shortages worsen and militancy continue almost unabated.

But the very fact the PPP completed its five-year term was seen as important in a country that has suffered three coups and been ruled for more than half of its 65-year history by the military.