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 following his party's resounding victory in Saturday's election. He is set to rule over a nuclear power whose increasing instability and militant havens are a global concern.
The 63-year-old Sharif often hit out at the United States 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.
Sharif reinforced that sense Monday with his first comments since the vote about how he viewed the relationship with the United States - a key issue since Washington relies on Islamabad for help in fighting Islamic militants and negotiating an end to the Afghan war.
"I think we have good relations with the United States of America. We certainly have to listen to each other," said Sharif. "If there are any concerns on any side, I think we should address those concerns."
Pakistan and the United States have had an extremely fraught relationship in recent years, especially following the American raid that killed Osama bin Laden in a Pakistani army town in 2011.
The relationship has improved somewhat over the last year, but U.S. drone attacks targeting militants in Pakistan's tribal region continue to create serious friction between the two countries.
"Drones indeed are challenging our sovereignty," said Sharif. "I think this is a very serious issue, and our concern must be understood properly."