- The Washington Times - Monday, September 8, 2008

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan | President-elect Asif Ali Zardari faced immediate pressure Sunday to tackle an upsurge in militant violence, as the toll from a suicide blast in Pakistan’s troubled northwest reached 33.

Mr. Zardari, who won a two-thirds majority in a secret ballot among lawmakers on Saturday, will be sworn in as leader of the world’s only nuclear-armed Islamic state and a front-line U.S. “war on terror” ally Tuesday.

The new president - the widower of slain former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto - will take charge of a country that has been riven by Islamic militancy, with nearly 1,200 people killed in bombings and suicide attacks in the past year.

The militant threat was underscored in the northwestern city of Peshawar during voting Saturday, when a suicide car bomber rammed a police checkpost killing 33 people and wounding more than 80.

The unrest is seen as a backlash by militants angry at the support given to the United States by former President Pervez Musharraf, whose Aug. 18 resignation triggered Saturday’s election.

“I will work to defeat the domestic Taliban insurgency and to ensure that Pakistani territory is not used to launch terrorist attacks on our neighbors or on NATO forces in Afghanistan,” Mr. Zardari said in an editorial before his win.

Mr. Zardari is also facing pressure from the opposition to reverse controversial changes to the constitution made by Mr. Musharraf, which gave him the right to dismiss parliament and make key military and judicial appointments.

“Zardari’s first test is that as president he facilitates the transfer of Musharraf’s powers to parliament,” said Ahsan Iqbal, a former minister and senior figure in the party led by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

Mr. Sharif’s allies have already demanded that Mr. Zardari resign as co-chairman of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), the country’s largest, in the wake of his victory.

“We want the president to be apolitical - that has been the tradition and we hope this tradition is kept,” Mr. Iqbal said.

The country’s leading newspapers, meanwhile, Sunday urged Mr. Zardari to remove all doubts about his checkered past and prove he can be trusted.

“There have been more controversial presidents in the past … but none has been as controversial as Mr. Zardari at the time of assuming office,” Dawn, an English-language daily, said in an editorial.

Mr. Zardari, once dubbed “Mr Ten Percent,” spent a total of 11 years in jail on charges ranging from corruption to murder. An amnesty signed by Mr. Musharraf cleared him of all corruption charges last year and allowed him and Mrs. Bhutto to return to Pakistan and end years in exile.

“The trust deficit is significant,” the editorial added.

Pakistan’s economy is also in trouble with rampant inflation and a plunging stock market that has lost about 40 percent of its value since January, in a country already reliant on foreign aid.

Mr. Zardari, 53, defeated retired Chief Justice Saeed-uz-Zaman Siddiqui, who was backed by Mr. Sharif, and Mushahid Hussain, a close aide of Mr. Musharraf, in Saturday’s election.

He will become the 14th president in Pakistan’s short but turbulent history.

Leaders across the world congratulated Mr. Zardari on his victory.

In Washington, White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said President Bush “looks forward to working with him … and the government of Pakistan on issues important to both countries.”

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