ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - A veteran politician with a reputation as a consensus builder emerged yesterday as the favorite to become Pakistan's next prime minister under an agreement by the two biggest opposition parties to form a new government together.
In a sign of the challenges facing the new leadership, 12 people died yesterday when a bomb ripped through a truck carrying wedding guests in an area where Al Qaeda-linked militants operate. Police said most of the dead were women.
No one claimed responsibility for the bombing in Matta, in the Swat valley, where security forces have been battling Islamic militants. It was the first major attack on Pakistani civilians since Monday's parliamentary elections, in which the ruling party suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of two opposition parties.
The results exposed President Pervez Musharraf's own lack of public support amid a rise in Islamic militancy that has killed hundreds in recent months and anger over his crackdown on the independent judiciary.
Leaders of the Pakistan People's Party - once headed by assassinated former premier Benazir Bhutto - conferred yesterday behind closed doors in Islamabad to discuss its choice to head the next government after the new parliament convenes, probably next month.
No final decision was made, but party officials and political analysts said the front-runner was veteran politician Makhdoom Amin Fahim, 68, a longtime Bhutto loyalist from Sindh province who turned down Musharraf's offer of the premiership in 2002.
Other possible nominees included Shah Mehmood Qureshi, a top People's Party figure from Punjab province, and former National Assembly speaker Yousuf Raza Gilani, party officials and analysts said. Shafqat Mahmood, a prominent political commentator and former People's Party spokesman, said Fahim was the favorite in part because the party wanted a prime minister from Sindh province, the Bhutto family stronghold. Both Qureshi and Gilani are from Punjab, the biggest and richest of Pakistan's four provinces.
Fahim "is a consensus builder," Mahmood said. "He would be good in a coalition and in papering over differences."
A mild-mannered figure short on charisma, Fahim served as the go-between in contacts between Musharraf and Bhutto during her eight years in exile.