–Imran Khan faces myriad challenges and will have to make hard choices, and quickly
ISLAMABAD: Imran Khan was on Saturday sworn in as the 22nd Prime Minister of Pakistan in a simple ceremony hosted at the Aiwan-i-Sadr (President’s House), beginning the countdown for his much-touted pledge of creating a corruption-free ‘Naya Pakistan’.
Imran was elected premier after securing 176 votes against Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) candidate Shehbaz Sharif’s 96 votes in an open ballot conducted in the National Assembly.
“Imran Khan has secured 176 votes,” National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser said after the vote on Friday. Imran needed a simple majority of 172 in the 342-seat National Assembly to take power. His only rival, PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif won 96 votes.
PML-N leaders protested in the assembly following the announcement of the result.
The oath-taking ceremony commenced with the playing of the national anthem, followed by a recitation from the Holy Quran.
High-profile guests, including Interim Prime Minister Nasirul Mulk, National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser, Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, Air Chief Marshal Mujahid Anwar Khan and Navy Chief Admiral Zafar Mahmood Abbasi, were present at the ceremony.
Other notable guests included senior PTI leaders, cricketer-turned-commentator Rameez Raja, newly elected Punjab Assembly Speaker Chaudhry Pervez Elahi, singers Salman Ahmed and Abrarul Haq, actor Javaid Sheikh and former National Assembly speaker Dr Fehmida Mirza.
A visibly overwhelmed Khan, clad in a traditional sherwani, smiled sheepishly as he had some difficulty with following the oath in Urdu. It was administered to him by President Mamnoon Hussain and televised live by state broadcaster PTV.
PM Khan swore to “bear true faith and allegiance to Pakistan”, and to “discharge my duties and perform my functions honestly, to the best of my ability… and always in the interest of the sovereignty, integrity, solidarity, well-being and prosperity of Pakistan”.
The ceremony marked an end to decades of rotating leadership between the ousted Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), punctuated by periods of military rule.
After taking oath as premier, Khan and First Lady Bushra Imran greeted various guests and accepted felicitations from them. This was Bushra’s first public appearance since their wedding earlier this year.
As the swearing-in ceremony concluded, Khan was ushered to Prime Minister’s House, where he was presented a guard of honour by contingents from the three armed forces.
Khan had invited the rest of the 1992 team to the ceremony, and fast bowler Wasim Akram was pictured smiling among the crowd.
Another cricketer-turned-politician, India’s Navjot Singh Sidhu, was seated in the front row and was earlier warmly embraced by General Bajwa after an animated conversation between the two.
The guests had been asked to carry their NIC or accreditation cards but not to bring with them any handbags, purses, mobiles phones or any other electronic gadgetry.
According to a tweet by PTI’s official Twitter account, the ceremony’s menu of nine dishes was reduced to refreshments only on Khan’s request as part of his “austerity drive”.
A notification issued by the Cabinet Division after the ceremony said Khan has entered the office of the prime minister after taking the oath.
Further, Mohammad Azam, former chief secretary Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, was posted as Secretary to the Prime Minister, Prime Minister’s Office, with immediate effect.
CHALLENGES FACING KHAN:
After the PTI emerged as the biggest parliamentary party in the wake of the July 25 polls, all 120 of the party’s parliamentary committee members had rubber-stamped Khan’s candidacy for the post of the prime minister.
The party formed enough alliances and recruited enough independents to gain the numbers required to get Khan elected as the PM in Friday’s parliamentary vote.
Khan and his party campaigned on promises to end widespread graft while building an “Islamic welfare state”.
“First of all, we will start strict accountability. I promise to my God that everyone who looted this country will be made accountable,” he said in his speech as PM-elect on Friday.
“No robber would be given an NRO (National Reconciliation Ordinance),” he said, adding, “I have reached here after struggling for 22 years and have not been fostered by any military dictator.”
Imran further said he would be answering questions as the prime minister twice a month in the NA.
Imran Khan faces myriad challenges. The cricketing icon turned politician will have to make hard choices, and quickly.
Analysts have warned the new government will have to act fast as the country teeters on the verge of a balance-of-payments crisis.
Khan’s likely new finance minister, Asad Umar, has said they will decide by the end of September whether or not to go to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for the country’s second bailout in five years.
But the US, one of the IMF’s biggest donors, has raised fears Pakistan could use any bailout money to repay debts to China, a suggestion Pakistan has refuted.
The budget deficit has grown steadily over the past five years, and foreign currency reserves have declined. The rupee has been repeatedly devalued, fuelling inflation.
Khan has vowed to improve trade with India, increase the ease of doing business and boost tax collection.
But the state of national finances could also undermine one of his most popular promises, his “Islamic welfare state”, based on increased spending on education and health.
Security has dramatically improved across Pakistan following a crackdown on militant groups in recent years.
But analysts have long warned that Pakistan is not tackling the root causes of extremism, and militants can still carry out spectacular attacks.
That includes during this election season, with a string of bombings at political events killing more than 200 people, including the second-deadliest militant attack in Pakistan’s history.
The new prime minister, who earned the nickname “Taliban Khan” over his willingness to hold talks with the militants, increasingly catered to religious hardliners throughout the campaign.
This has spurred fears extremists may be emboldened under his leadership.
Conservative Pakistan, with its limited family planning, has one of the highest birth rates in Asia at around three children per woman, according to the World Bank and government figures.
That has led to a fivefold increase of the population since 1960, now touching 207 million, draft results from last year’s census show.
The boom is negating hard-won economic and social progress in the developing country, experts have warned. Analysts say unless more is done to slow growth, the country’s natural resources will not be enough to support the population.
To add to the problem, discussing contraception in public is taboo in Pakistan.
Khan has not taken any clear stance on family planning in the past, and it remains to be seen how his government will tackle population growth.
Pakistan is on the verge of an ecological disaster if authorities do not urgently address looming water shortages, experts say.
Official estimates show that by 2025 the country will be facing an “absolute scarcity” of water, with less than 500 cubic metres available per person — just one-third of the water available in parched Somalia, according to the UN.
The political initiative will be essential to building infrastructure to reverse the course of the impending crisis. There is also little in the way of public education on water conservation.
Khan has a relatively good track record on the environment, with the “Billion Tree Tsunami” tree-planting programme in his party stronghold of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province earning acclaim from environmental groups.
Whether he can translate that experience to a nationwide water conservation programme is not yet clear.
Pakistan has spent roughly half its nearly 71-year history under military rule, and the imbalance of power in between civilian governments and the armed forces has long been seen as an impediment to democracy and progress.
Hope surged in 2013 as the country saw its first-ever democratic transition of power.
But since then, experts have warned of a “creeping coup”, fuelled by tensions between the generals and three-time premier Nawaz Sharif, largely attributed to his desire to assert civilian supremacy and seek warmer relations with arch-rival India.
Sharif, ousted in 2017 and arrested for corruption in July, has said he and his party were targeted by the military. It denies the allegations.
Khan, who has already made overtures to India, insisted in parliament Friday that he had been elected without any help.
“I am standing here in this parliament on my own feet,” he said.
He will have to meet the country’s challenges without upsetting this delicate balance of power.