WASHINGTON - The United States said on Friday that it looked forward to working with Pakistan’s new prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf, a politician portrayed in US news media reports as highly controversial.
"We are pleased that the leadership issues appear to have been settled. We obviously look forward to working with the new prime minister," State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said in response to a question at the daily press briefing.
The spokesperson hoped that Ashraf's election will “open space to continue to roll up our sleeves and get back on track with all of the things” outstanding between the two countries.
Observers noted that the spokesman avoided using usual words of welcome or congratulations on Ashraf's election as the new Pakistani leader amid deteriorating Pak-US relations.
Meanwhile, The Washington Post, an influential newspaper, said the choice the choice "seemed to guarantee continued political turmoil: Ashraf is associated with a persistent energy crisis that has crippled the country with blackouts, water shortages and steep increases in the price of fuel.”
"Ashraf, the energy minister from 2008 to 2011, also was mired in a corruption scandal involving private leases of energy production plants. ... President Asif Ali Zardari, who heads the Pakistan People’s Party, turned to Ashraf after the leading candidate for the job (Makhdoom Shahabuddin) withdrew Thursday amid allegations of drug trafficking.”
"But even with the leadership vacuum filled, the nation is expected to remain beset by a power struggle among its major institutions - the courts, the military and the civilian leadership - that threatens to keep Pakistan in tumult for months to come," the Post said, citing political observers in Islamabad.
"The upheaval has complicated US efforts to wind down the war in neighbouring Afghanistan, contributing to Islamabad’s failure to come up with a compromise to again allow NATO supplies to pass through Pakistani territory.”
"Ashraf, 61, is expected to be a place-holder prime minister. The party also on Friday called for parliamentary elections to be held before the end of the year, rather than in March 2013 as scheduled," the Post said.
The New York Times said, "Ashraf was a contentious choice, dogged by corruption accusations and partly blamed for the severe electricity crisis that triggered violent riots in Punjab ... early this week. A large faction inside the ruling party vocally opposed his election, the Times said, citing party officials.
The Wall Street Journal in its comments said, "The politicking has again cast a light on Pakistan's unstable political situation. The infighting means the nation's leaders spend more time on backroom dealings than confronting the many problems threatening the country, from a Taliban insurgency to a broken relationship with the US, its major civilian and military aid donor..."
The Foreign Policy magazine reported the development under the headline: "Pakistan's Prime Minister's merry-go-round!"