Pakistan's newly elected Prime Minister, Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani, 55, was Welcomed to his job last month by food and power shortages, inflation and the threat of terror attacks. In his first interview with a foreign publication since taking office, Gilani told NEWSWEEK's Ron Moreau about his plans to restore order, amend the Constitution to prevent President Pervez Musharraf from dissolving the government, bar unilateral U.S. strikes, restore fired judges to the bench and return Pakistan to the path of economic development.
MOREAU: Your new government is facing a host of problems. What ' s your priority?
GILANI: Political stability leads to economic stability. My priority will be to control the law-and-order situation in the country, so we have to discourage this extremism and terrorism. That's what is affecting our economy.
What specifically can you do to improve law and order?
We need the help of the entire world, because we are fighting terrorism and extremism, though it is our own war. I lost my own leader, Benazir Bhutto, because of this terrorism and extremism. We need job opportunities and an education system [without] madrassas, where the students are being groomed for the Taliban. Force should be kept in the background [or] it will erode the authority of the government.
You have also said that you would talk to the militant groups along the border. What would you say, and to whom?
We are not in favor of talking to the militants and hard-liners. We want to only talk to people who have laid down and decommissioned their arms.
But you are facing militants who have created a state within a state and are making demands on your government.
We will not be blackmailed by them. We won't listen to their demands that are totally unrealistic. If they want us to hand over [jailed] terrorists for talks, that will not happen.
So you ' ll continue to try to stop crossborder movements of militants?
We will discourage that. But at the same time the terrain is so difficult and the border is so lengthy that even if we deploy the whole Pakistan Army there we may not be able to control the frontier.
The United States has said that if Pakistan cannot control the border then it will take unilateral actions. And there have been reports of U.S. Predator aircraft striking inside Pakistan without Islamabad ' s consent. Is this happening and, if so, will it continue?
We believe in democracy and the rule of law, and we want respect for the sovereignty of the country. Since I have been the chief executive, these [unilateral attacks] have never happened, and they will never happen again. We are capable ourselves.
Can you work with President Musharraf, whose regime threw you in jail for five years?
My having been in jail has nothing to do with my position today. The Pakistan Peoples Party believes in peace and reconciliation. We don't want to fight for non-issues. I'm not bitter at all.
Will the judges who were removed by Musharraf be restored to the bench, including Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry?
Let's leave it up to the Parliament to do whatever it wants. But the mood of the people of Pakistan is for the restoration of the judges and the chief justice and for the independence of the judiciary.
Your coalition partner Nawaz Sharif seems to take a much harder line on Musharraf, whom he wants to resign. Can your coalition survive the strain?
When you agree to disagree, that's democracy. Sharif's and ours are two different parties. They have their own manifestoes and programs. But for bare-minimum issues we are together. As far as Musharraf is concerned, the people of this country have given a clear mandate against his policies, against his undemocratic acts.
What role will your party ' s two co-chairmen, Asif Ali Zardari, Bhutto ' s widower, and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, their son, play in your government?
The party formulates policies. Once the policies are made they are given to the government to execute. As chief executive I'm implementing the policies.
Is it wrong to say that Zardari is giving you orders?
There is no need for giving orders. I'm following my party's manifesto.