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In Pakistan, Sharif Turns To Unstable Nation's Dire Problems

With a commanding lead for his party in the vote count following Saturday's parliamentary elections, former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is returning to power with a clear mandate to focus on the grave problems facing his nation, as NPR's Julie McCarthy reports from Lahore for Morning Edition.

Rashed Rahman, editor of Pakistan's Daily Times, tells Julie that Sharif's biggest challenge will be reviving an economy that's being weighed down by a severe shortage of energy.

The power crisis "has ruined the economy and brought industry and commerce to its knees," Rahman says. "Clearly no investment is coming in — domestic or foreign."

But, as he adds, Pakistan's problems certainly don't begin and end there: "If you don't deal with terrorism, you can't improve the economy; if you don't deal with law and order, you can't improve the economy because no investor is going to risk his capital in a situation where safety of life and limb cannot be guaranteed."

Rahman says Sharif, 63, also must deal with his image as a center-right conservative with a "soft corner" for militants.

"If you have a soft corner, will you be able to manage, will you be able to control it ... will you be able to tackle it?" Rahman says. "Don't forget the causalities the Taliban have inflicted on us — over 5,000 security personnel, 40,000 civilians . ... It's not something that you can wish away, it's not something that you can casually tackle. It's a very serious issue, and I think he will be tested on this one."

Rahman's newspaper reports that "Sharif was in talks on Sunday to form a new government." According to the Daily Times:

"TV projections suggested no single party would win an absolute majority in the 342-seat National Assembly. But Nawaz's Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) was well ahead with more than 115 of the chamber's 272 directly elected seats, according to various projections by private channels. Sartaj Aziz, a senior PML-N official and former cabinet minister, said Nawaz was in talks Sunday with some independent MPs to get them on board and in discussions to work out "a few key portfolios" in the cabinet."

This has been a landmark election for Pakistan. It's the first time since the country's founding in 1947 that one democratically elected government is turning over control to another. Shariff was one of the leaders who fell victim to Pakistan's previous way of changing governments: He was tossed out of the prime minister's post by a military coup in 1999.

Voters rejected the Pakistan People's Party that has ruled Pakistan the past five years. Cricketeer-turned-politician Imran Khan and his party made gains, but not enough to overtake Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League.

Related stories:

-- "Pakistan's Next Premier An Islamist Comeback Kid." (The Associated Press)

-- "Times Reporter Ordered To Leave Pakistan." (Morning Edition)

-- "Sharif Sets Agenda For Better India Ties." (Hindustan Times)

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