Nawaz Sharif makes history as he is sworn in as Pakistan's PM for third time

He promises to tackle the power cuts that have crippled industry - and repeats demand for end to US drone strikes

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The Independent Online

Nawaz Sharif today made history as he was sworn in for third time as Pakistan's prime minister and said he was ready to confront the slew of problems facing the country.

In a speech to members of parliament after he was comfortably elected premier, Mr Sharif said he would tackle the debilitating power cuts that have crippled industry and created misery for millions of ordinary people. He also repeated his demand for an end to US drone strikes, saying they represented an affront to the nation's sovereignty.

"I will do my best to change the fate of the people and Pakistan," said Mr Sharif, according to the Associated Press.

The election of Mr Sharif by parliamentarians on Wednesday was in reality a formality following the convincing victory of his Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) in last month's general election.

Yet his return to power underscored a remarkable journey for a man who was forced from office by a military coup in 1999 and flown into exile in Saudi Arabia. The event also marked the completion of the transfer of power from an elected government that had completed its term to another, a first for the country.

Later, the 63-year-old Mr Sharif was sworn in as prime minister by President Asif Ali Zardari. Among those in attendance watching him take the oath of office was Mr Sharif's daughter, Maryam Sharif, a constant presence during her father's election campaign.

Since his victory last month, Mr Sharif has been quick to acknowledge the scale of the challenge ahead of him. Among the most challenging will be developing a relationship with the powerful military, an institution that has long been suspicious of him

"Whenever dictatorship has come, Pakistan has suffered a huge loss," Mr Sharif told his fellow members of parliament. "Now it should be decided forever that Pakistan's survival, protection, sovereignty, progress, prosperity and respect in the international community depends upon strengthening democracy in Pakistan."

The West will look to see how Mr Sharif deals with the issue of drone strikes, something that is hugely controversial inside the country. Last week, Mr Sharif condemned a strike that killed the number two of the Taliban, Waliur Rehman, saying it violated international law.

"This daily routine of drone attacks, this chapter shall now be closed," Mr Sharif said, to applause that rang out in the national assembly building. "We do respect others' sovereignty. It is mandatory on others that they respect our sovereignty."

In the days ahead, Mr Sharif will need to deal with three interlinking priorities. When Western and Arab ambassadors visited him in recent weeks, he said his plan is to salvage Pakistan's desperate energy woes, tame the threat of domestic terrorism, and rouse the torpid economy.

During the election campaign, no single issue resounded more with voters than Mr Sharif's promise to turn the power back on. At the moment, amid the sultry summer heat, power outages last for up to 20 hours. Even in the capital, Islamabad, the electricity fleetingly arrives for one hour before vanishing the next.

To tackle the energy crisis, Mr Sharif will be appointing the highly respected Khawaja Muhammad Asif as his energy czar. Mr Khawaja, a Sharif confidante and former banker with a keen grasp of the economy, has an ambitious plan to pay off the debt to independent power producers, privatise the rickety sector, import cheaper fuel and slowly boost capacity.

If Mr Khawaja succeeds, he and Mr Sharif will become hugely popular. If he fails, he'll suffer the fate of his predecessor, Raja Parvez Ashraf, who was vanquished at the elections despite pouring millions into his constituency. Voters have become increasingly impatient, and electricity is an issue they privilege over even terrorism.

The near-daily terrorist attacks also remain a key concern. The Pakistani Taliban may have been chastened by military operations in recent years, but continue to demonstrate their chilling ability to strike across the country.

As a businessman, Mr Sharif understands that his ultimate goal of economic growth is contingent on a Pakistan where the lights work and bombings stop. Only then will foreign investment, long wary of Pakistan, return to the country.

But he appears overly keen, critics say, to negotiate a peace deal with the Pakistani Taliban that could end up further emboldening them. In the past, they have only seized the extra space yielded to them to press for further gains before breaking the peace deals.