Pakistan’s Interim Leader Says He’s No ‘Bench Warmer’

But there is no guarantee that the corruption claims that brought down Mr. Sharif will leave his younger brother unscathed, raising the possibility that Mr. Abbasi’s tenure as prime minister could last indefinitely.

The Muslim League holds 188 of 342 seats in Parliament’s lower house, and with additional votes from its allies, Mr. Abbasi won 221 votes to win the top slot. He will remain petroleum minister while assuming the job that was held by Mr. Sharif, whom he described as a victim of an unfair Supreme Court decision.

“I had no ambitions for this job,” Mr. Abbasi said in his chamber as he hastily scribbled his acceptance speech for interim prime minister on sheets of paper in green ink. “My party sent me here and here I am. It was a fait accompli. I was not given a choice.”

When I asked if he had wanted to be prime minister, Mr. Abbasi said: “Given a choice I would not take the job.”

But he insisted that he would not function as a “bench warmer” for Mr. Sharif’s sibling, and said his first order of business would be to improve the executive’s relationship with the military and the judiciary.

“There are certain issues here which I cannot reconcile with, the way our whole system operates, the relationship between the judiciary and the executive, within the executive, the civil-military relationship,” Mr. Abbasi said.

“I think there are issues which do not allow governments to perform here, and the country is suffering,” he added. “My aim will be to contribute to fixing those anomalies.”

He did not specify what steps he would take, but said he preferred “engagement” over a “politics of confrontation.”

“I think there is room for improvement,” Mr. Abbasi said when asked whether smoothing civil-military relations would be part of his agenda. “The relationship is functional, and I think there is a need to define it more fully through engagement.”

Nawaz Sharif has tense ties with Pakistan’s army, and his previous government had been toppled by a bloodless coup in 1999. During his most recent tenure, Mr. Sharif’s overtures of more openness toward India were spurned by the army. Speculation also circulated that the military had secretly supported street protests to dislodge Mr. Sharif’s government in 2014.

“The first thing to realize is that we are all on the same side,” Mr. Abbasi said, referring to the civilian government and the military. “I think we…

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