Pakistan parliament convenes Monday, faces challenges from day one

Pakistan's parliament will convene Monday with the new government looking at challenges from day one.

The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) of assassinated former premier Benazir Bhutto will lead a coalition government that will include the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) of Nawaz Sharif, also a former premier. ( dpa )

Naming a new prime minister will wait until late in the week, PPP spokesman Farhatullah Babar told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa. The party cannot agree on a candidate and in the meantime current caretaker Prime Minister Muhammadmian Soomro will continue in the post.

Bhutto and Sharif's parties finished first and second in the February 18 election, while the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q), President Pervez Musharraf's political backers, finished a distant third.

The coalition has already said they will reinstate more than 60 senior judges within 30 days of the formation of the government. Musharraf removed the judges from office under the emergency order on November 3.

Following the emergency proclamation, Musharraf packed the court with hand-picked judges who approved his re-election.

Reinstating the judges could further cloud the political future of the embattled president, who sacked the judges to prevent the Supreme Court from disqualifying him for another presidential term. The deposed judges, when restored, can revoke the approval and force Musharraf to leave office.

But Musharraf has shown no signs he will leave willingly and legal experts have questioned how the new parliament can reinstate the judges. Some have argued it can be done by executive decree but others have said a two-thirds majority in parliament will be needed.

But dealing with the naming of a new prime minister, the judges and Musharraf may take a back seat to facing the rising terrorism in the country, with the latest bombing killing a Turkish woman and wounding eight other foreigners and three Pakistanis Saturday night in Islamabad.

Pakistan has suffered more than 60 suicide attacks that have killed more than 1,000 people in the past 15 months. The bombing campaign escalated after army commandos stormed the Red Mosque in Islamabad to end a siege by armed militants in mid-2007. Hundreds of people were believed to have died in the army attack, prompting Islamic militants to seek revenge against the military.

Before Saturday's bombing in Islamabad, which police said was not a suicide attack but was planted by terrorists, the most recent attacks had been in Lahore, but overall most of the attacks have occurred in the volatile tribal areas of the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP).

Pakistan's tribal areas are safe-havens for al-Qaeda militants and Taliban fighters who have launched cross-border attacks on international forces into Afghanistan.

More recently the militants have turned inward and launched regular attacks against Pakistani security forces and rival tribes.

The coalition government will immediately face the problem of Islamic militancy and suicide bombings that increased during the watch of Musharraf.

Some incoming politicians have called for dialogue with the militants, a reversal of the military strategy pursued by Musharraf, a key US ally in fighting Taliban and al-Qaeda militants in the tribal areas.

There is speculation the militants have upped their bombing campaign to send a message to the incoming government not to continue supporting US President George W Bush's so-called "war on terror."

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