ISLAMABAD (AP) — Newly elected members of Pakistan's National Assembly prepared to be sworn in on Saturday, officially marking the first transition of power between democratically elected civilian governments in the 66-year history of the coup-prone country.
Among the steep challenges the legislators will face: massive energy shortages that leave some Pakistanis without power for up to 20 hours a day; a badly ailing economy that might force the Muslim-majority nation to seek an international bailout; and ongoing militant activity by Taliban and other extremists whose violence has killed thousands in the past decade and badly strained Pakistan's alliance with the United States.
Dressed in their finest on a bright, hot day, the incoming lawmakers arrived at the parliament building in Islamabad under tight security and were immediately mobbed by media outlets. Among those arriving was the incoming prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, whose Pakistan Muslim League-N handily won the May 11 elections.
"We are facing many challenges, but God willing, we will overcome them," Sharif told reporters.
The PML-N won 176 seats in the 342-member lower house of Parliament and is expected to rule in an alliance with some independent legislators. The previous ruling Pakistan People's Party was crushed, earning just 39 seats.
Former cricket star Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf won 35 seats, and has pledged to act as a strong opposition. It was unclear whether Khan, who fractured three vertebrae and a rib when he fell 4.5 meters (15 feet) off a forklift in the last few days of the campaign, would be able to attend Saturday's session.
Khan and Sharif have both condemned the U.S. use of drone strikes in Pakistani territory. Such strikes typically target Al-Qaida-linked militants or Taliban extremists that the U.S. deems a threat, but Pakistanis view the strikes as a violation of sovereignty and believe they also kill many innocent civilians.
Sharif and others want to try to resolve differences with the Pakistani Taliban in particular through peace talks, and the militant group had appeared amenable to that idea. But on Wednesday, a U.S. drone strike killed the Pakistani Taliban's No. 2 leader, Waliur Rehman, according to the militant group. By the next day, the Taliban said they would not participate in any negotiations.
A statement issued by the PML-N late Friday said Sharif had expressed "deep disappointment" over the Wednesday drone strike. The statement called the strike a violation of Pakistan's sovereignty and international law. It does not refer to Waliur Rehman or the Pakistani Taliban.
The statement said a Sharif aide had conveyed his sentiments to the U.S. Embassy.
The U.S. regards such missile attacks as legal, but President Barack Obama recently described plans to further restrict drone use in the future. According to the statement, the Sharif aide described the strike as especially regrettable since it came within days of Obama's speech.