Zardari sworn in as Pakistan President

Islamabad, September 9:

The widower of assassinated former Pakistani leader Benazir Bhutto took office as the country’s new president today, facing immediate pressure to crack down on Islamic militants and address daunting economic problems.

Pakistan’s top judge swore in Asif Ali Zardari at a brief ceremony in the presidential palace recently vacated by Pervez Musharraf, who resigned under pressure last month.

With his three children among the well-wishers and dignitaries packing a cavernous hall, Zardari, wearing a pinstriped business suit, beamed as the ceremony ended and shouts of “Bhutto is alive!” rang out.

But in the front row sat an imposing reminder of his task ahead: Afghan President Hamid Karzai, whose government accuses Pakistan of failing to take action against Taliban militants based around the countries’ common and porous border.

Zardari won an overwhelming two-thirds majority when lawmakers chose among

the three presidential candidates on Saturday.

The inauguration of Zardari, 53, completes Pakistan’s return to civilian rule nearly nine years after then-army chief Musharraf seized power in a bloodless military coup.

The United States came to depend heavily on Musharraf for cooperation to capture or kill Al Qaeda leaders who plotted the 9/11 attacks on America and fled Afghanistan after the US-led invasion in 2001 toppled their Taliban allies.

Zardari has made tough statements against Islamic extremism, and the army says it has killed hundreds of rebels in ongoing operations in several parts of Pakistan’s volatile northwest.

The Pakistani Taliban have responded with a string of suicide bombings, including one in the city of Peshawar that killed 35 people on Saturday, the same day as the presidential election by lawmakers.

Meanwhile, a rare assault by US ground troops and a series of missile strikes into Pakistan’s tribal region indicate that Washington is getting more aggressive about militant havens just beyond the Afghan border, despite intensifying Pakistani protests.

Yet the elected government also has sought peace talks with militants, and many Pakistanis blame the rising violence in their own country on Musharraf’s close alliance with Washington.

Hour of glory for ‘Mr Ten Percent’

Islamabad: Pakistan’s controversial new President Asif Ali Zardari was once so tainted by corruption allegations that he acquired the nickname “Mr Ten Percent”.

But the problems of his controversial past, which included 11 years in jail on charges ranging from corruption to murder, have been supplanted by the Islamic militancy and economic turmoil which he now must tackle. Zardari will also have to convince the nation and the wider world that he is fit for office. Zardari is the 14th president in Pakistan’s short but often turbulent 61-year history, and now has the power to dismiss governments and appoint leaders of the country’s ever lurking military. — AP