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Imran Khan vows change in first address as prime minister of Pakistan

Khan retains the interior ministry portfolio for himself as he personally oversees steps against money laundering and corruption

PUBLISHED : Monday, 20 August, 2018, 5:16am
UPDATED : Monday, 20 August, 2018, 9:17pm

Pakistan’s 21-member Cabinet was sworn in Monday, a day after Prime Minister Imran Khan pledged to cut government spending, end corruption and repatriate public funds.

President Mamnoon Hussain administered the oath of office to 16 federal ministers in Islamabad. Separately, Khan has also appointed five advisers to his Cabinet.

Khan, whose populist party won most parliament seats in the July 25 elections but fell short of a majority, forcing it to form a coalition, took the oath of office on Saturday as Pakistan’s 22nd premier. He campaigned on promises of rooting out endemic corruption and breaking powerful landowners’ monopoly on political power.

“I want to see Pakistan a great country” with social services for the poor, Khan said.

Foreign Minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, said after taking his oath of office that he is aware of foreign policy challenges ahead.

Foreign policy, he said, will be revised and set on the correct path, in the “interest of Pakistan”.

Qureshi said he would reach out to counterparts in the region and focus on key issues of critical importance to Pakistan.

“Pakistan needs a peaceful and stabilised Afghanistan, it’s in the interest of Pakistan,” Qureshi said.

Both neighbouring India and Pakistan are nuclear powers and cannot afford any adventure, he said. “We have long-standing, complex problems and have no option but to start a dialogue.”

He welcomed that Indian Prime Minister Modi in a congratulatory message to Khan expressed desire for talks.

As for ties with the United States, Qureshi said Pakistan wants bilateral relations based on respect and trust.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is expected to make a stop in Islamabad on his way to India and Afghanistan in the first week of September.

“There is a trust deficit in our relations, I admit,” Qureshi said of US and Pakistan.

“In meetings with the US secretary of state, I will boldly apprise him of our aspirations.”

Khan said he has retained the interior ministry portfolio for himself as he personally oversees steps against money laundering and corruption.

The former cricketer also announced an austerity drive to trim back the trappings of government, such as selling most of the vehicles allotted to the prime minister, cutting down on staff and turning the official residence into a university.

“I will fight the corrupt. Either this country will survive or the corrupt people,” he said.

Khan called for a progressive tax system, vowing to spend the money on the neediest – such as malnourished children, and justice for victims of abuse – and on fighting climate change.

Few in Pakistan pay their taxes currently, and he did not explain how he would enforce more taxation, especially on the rich.

Khan’s leadership represents the end of decades rotating between two establishment parties, punctuated by periods of army rule.

But he and his cabinet face a myriad of challenges including a faltering economy, militant extremism, water shortages, and a rapidly growing population negating growth in the developing country, among others.

The most pressing is a looming balance-of-payments crisis, with analysts predicting Pakistan will have to go to the International Monetary Fund for a bailout.

Khan did not confirm if his government would ask for the loan, but stated: “We have to stand up on our own feet … By going with a begging bowl, no nation becomes great.”

Finance minister Asad Umar has said they will decide by September if they will go to the IMF.

The July 25 election that brought Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party to power was branded “Pakistan’s dirtiest”, with accusations throughout the campaign that the powerful military was trying to tilt the playing field in Khan’s favour.

The army and Khan have denied claims.

Associated Press, Agence France-Presse