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Pakistan's new prime minister is also the country's old prime minister

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Pakistan has a new prime minister, and he's the old prime minister. Shehbaz Sharif belongs to a political dynasty. His brother was prime minister, too, once upon a time. Sharif has the army behind him. He also faces a lot of opposition, so can he govern one of the world's most populous countries? NPR's Diaa Hadid reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRIME MINISTER SHEHBAZ SHARIF: (Non-English language spoken).

DIAA HADID, BYLINE: In his maiden speech, Shehbaz Sharif vowed to try to reduce inflation and create more jobs, to deepen Pakistan's relations with China and repair relations with Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SHARIF: Pakistan.

(JEERING)

HADID: But what people heard was heckling by his rivals, legislators backed by the popular former prime minister Imran Khan. Khan was ousted nearly two years ago after falling out with the army. He's in jail serving multiple sentences. His party was banned from running in February's elections, so Khan's loyalists ran as independents. They won the largest number of seats, but they say they were denied a clear majority because of widespread rigging. Instead, Shehbaz Sharif scraped together an unwieldy coalition. It's a mirror image of the unpopular coalition Sharif led when he first became prime minister two years ago, after Khan was toppled. Sharif is widely seen as the army's choice.

MICHAEL KUGELMAN: Yeah. It's a good question. Why Shehbaz?

HADID: Michael Kugelman is the director of the South Asia Institute at the Wilson Center.

KUGELMAN: I think that the answer is quite simple. Shehbaz Sharif is someone who has always had very good relations with the military.

HADID: Sharif may be preferred by the military, but with questions surrounding his electoral mandate, he may not have the legitimacy to make tough reforms demanded by donors at a time when Pakistan needs yet another bailout from the International Monetary Fund. Kugelman again.

KUGELMAN: Shehbaz Sharif's government will not really enjoy much political space to be able to push through the economic reforms that it really needs.

HADID: And he's got to convince donors to help Pakistanis battered by droughts and floods made more extreme by climate change. In the short term, though, the coalition could earn legitimacy if Sharif can bring about relief for Pakistanis grappling with the rising cost of food and fuel. For that, Kugelman says, a prime minister aligned with the army will at least offer enough stability to make that possible. And analysts say Western governments are unlikely to focus much on Pakistan's democratic credentials for now, as they grapple with the Mideast war and Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Diaa Hadid, NPR News, Mumbai. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Diaa Hadid
Diaa Hadid chiefly covers Pakistan and Afghanistan for NPR News. She is based in NPR's bureau in Islamabad. There, Hadid and her team were awarded a Murrow in 2019 for hard news for their story on why abortion rates in Pakistan are among the highest in the world.