Pakistani PM chooses senior ministers
Saturday, 29 March 2008

REUTERS, ISLAMABAD - Pakistan's new prime minister has chosen senior ministers who should be welcomed by businessmen and calm some U.S. nerves over cooperation on counterterrorism, a source close to the incoming government said on Thursday.

Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani will announce 22 members of his cabinet on Saturday when he seeks a vote of confidence in the National Assembly, a spokeswoman for his party said.

Gilani is a senior member of assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and is forming a coalition with the party of another former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, and two smaller parties.

The two main coalition partners defeated the former ruling party that backs President Pervez Musharraf in the Feb. 18 parliamentary election, raising speculation that U.S. ally Musharraf could be forced to quit in the coming weeks or months.

The source close to the government told Reuters on Thursday that the PPP, led by Bhutto's widower Asif Ali Zardari, wanted a steady transition to civilian rule after 8-1/2 years under Musharraf, who came to power as a general in a 1999 coup.

Sharif, the prime minister Musharraf deposed, is pushing for Musharraf to go sooner rather than later, the source said. Allies and near neighbours have been concerned about the safety of Pakistan's nuclear arms, as al Qaeda-inspired militants have intensified efforts to destabilise the Muslim nation with a wave of suicide attacks on security forces and politicians.

The incoming government was unlikely to change the nuclear command and control system, overseen by the National Command Authority, chaired by the president, with the prime minister acting as vice chairman, the source said.

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