RAIWIND, Pakistan — Pakistan's presumptive prime minister said Monday that he wants good relations with the United States but criticized American drone strikes on militants as a violation of the country's sovereignty — perhaps hinting the government's grudging compliance may change.
A devout Muslim and a populist, Nawaz Sharif is expected to supplant President Asif Ali Zardari as the international face of Pakistan after his party's resounding victory in Saturday's election. He is set to rule over a nuclear power whose increasing instability and Islamic militant havens are a global concern, especially at a time when the West is looking to end the war in neighboring Afghanistan.
The 63-year-old Sharif often hit out at the U.S. in statements while lobbying for votes, and he accused the outgoing government ruled by the Pakistan People's Party of selling out the country's sovereignty in exchange for U.S. aid.
However, analysts have cautioned that while such rhetoric sells on the campaign trail in a country where anti-American sentiment is high, Sharif is likely to take a more nuanced approach to U.S. relations once in office.
Pakistan and the U.S. have had an extremely fraught relationship in recent years, especially after the American raid that killed Osama bin Laden in a Pakistani army town in 2011. The U.S. didn't tell Pakistan about the operation beforehand.
The relationship has improved somewhat over the last year, but U.S. drone attacks targeting Taliban and al-Qaida militants in Pakistan's tribal region continue to create serious friction between the two countries.
But Pakistan has a long history of officials condemning the strikes in public and supporting them in private, and how aggressively Sharif pushes the U.S. may depend on how much he needs it in other areas.
Pakistan relies on the U.S. for hundreds of millions of dollars in aid every year. More importantly, Pakistan would likely need U.S. support to get a bailout it desperately needs from the International Monetary Fund because of the government's shaky financial situation.