Daunting task ahead for new Pakistani Prime Minister Khan

President Mamnoon Hussain administering the oath of office to Imran Ahmed Khan Niazi as prime minister during the oath-taking ceremony at Aiwan-e-Sadr, Islamabad on Aug. 18, 2018. (Photo courtesy: Press Information Department)
Updated 18 August 2018
0

Daunting task ahead for new Pakistani Prime Minister Khan

  • The historic event of Khan's oath-taking is only the second time in Pakistan’s history that one elected government has transferred power to another
  • Analysts say Khan’s win has sounded the death knell for old-style dynastic politics led by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PMLN) , and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP)

ISLAMABAD: Ex-cricketer Imran Khan was sworn in as the prime minister of Pakistan on Saturday morning, three weeks after his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party won a general election marred by allegations of military interference. 
Khan’s rise to the top office underscores a remarkable journey for a man who launched his party in 1996 and for years tried but failed to take the reins of Pakistan.
“I did not climb on any dictator’s shoulders; I reached this place after struggling for 22 years,” Khan said in a fiery speech on Friday after being elected prime minister in a vote at the National Assembly. 
Throughout his political career, Khan has branded himself as a populist alternative to Pakistan’s elite, saying dynastic, corrupt leaders have enriched themselves while Pakistanis have grown poorer. 
Analysts say his win has sounded the death knell for old-style dynastic politics led by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PMLN) of three-time premier Nawaz Sharif, and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), founded and led by the House of Bhutto. 
The historic event is also only the second time in Pakistan’s history that one elected government has transferred power to another. 
“Here, Imran Khan has won a second world cup,” said political analyst Mazhar Abbas, referring to Pakistan’s victory in the 1992 Cricket World Cup led by Captain Khan. “Imagine, in 2002 he had one seat in parliament, and today he is the prime minister of Pakistan. At the end of his biography he writes that the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf is an idea. Today, it has become a reality.”
Khan attended Saturday’s oath-taking ceremony dressed in a traditional black sherwani long coat and white pants. He appeared happy but his body language also revealed some nerves just moments before he took over what has been called one of the toughest jobs in the world. 
The challenges ahead are indeed truly formidable. 
Pakistan’s history is marked by military coups and boom-and-bust economic cycles. A decade-and-a-half-long war against militancy has cost the state around Rs300 billion and hundreds of thousands of lives.
For Khan, the first challenge will be addressing historic civil-military tensions that have resulted in an outsized role for the army in politics as well as foreign-policy decision making. No Pakistani premier has ever completed a five-year term in office, either ousted in military takeovers or by Supreme Court judgments. 
Khan also comes to power at a time when relations with on-off ally the United States and neighbors India and Afghanistan are particularly tense.
But perhaps the biggest challenge of all is on the economic front. 
Faced with dwindling foreign exchange reserves, Pakistan needs $10 billion to bail out its economy. The current account deficit widened to $18 billion in the fiscal year that ended June 30 and foreign reserves plunged to just over $9 billion this July from $16.4 billion in May 2017.
The question facing Khan now is whether to request an International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout or turn to longtime ally China for a rescue package.
Pakistan went to the IMF immediately after the 2008 and 2013 elections, but this time the request for financial assistance is expected to be the largest ever.
“The typical response of an incoming government has been to ‘plug the hole’ through IMF and kick the can down the road for another five years until the next near-death experience,” Atif Mian, a professor of economics at Princeton University, wrote in a recent column in Dawn newspaper. “However, for things to be different this time, the new government needs to respond differently.”
This includes strengthening Pakistan’s financial and regulatory authorities and making them independent, shifting growth policy from import-led strategies toward domestic productivity growth and exports, and modernizing the financial system to reduce tax evasion and money laundering.
Privatising loss-making state entities, reforming the energy sector and broadening the tax net are some of the other issues Khan will have to tackle. 
His aides say he is ready to take on the overwhelming challenges, including uplifting Pakistanis from poverty. 
“He is always most concerned about the weakest segments of society,” Asad Umar, widely tipped as new finance minister, said. “Whenever we talk about economic policies, he always says we have to take care of those who are the poorest and the weakest.”
There are also fears that Khan’s government will end up being weak and divided. He did not have enough seats for a simple majority and has to now cobble together a coalition that might become a hurdle in pushing through his ambitious reforms. 
“But in the first hundred days, if Imran Khan just shows good intentions, then people will be satisfied,” said veteran journalist and long-time Khan observer Suhail Warriach. “He doesn’t have to overturn the tables immediately. If he can just display that he intends to fulfil all the big promises he has made, it will be a good beginning.”


Global police body picks South Korea’s Kim as president over Russian rival

Updated 19 min 2 sec ago
0

Global police body picks South Korea’s Kim as president over Russian rival

  • The US-backed Kim was picked at a meeting of delegates from member nations in Dubai to replace Meng Hongwei
  • His Russian rival's candidacy had unnerved Western nations

DUBAI: Interpol announced Wednesday that Kim Jong-yang of South Korea had been chosen as its new president, beating a Russian official whose candidacy had unnerved Western nations.
The US-backed Kim, acting president of the global police body, was picked at a meeting of delegates from member nations in Dubai to replace Meng Hongwei, who went missing in his native China in September.
Beijing later said Meng resigned after being charged with accepting bribes.
There had been growing calls within Western nations for Interpol to reject Russian candidate Alexander Prokopchuk — a Russian interior ministry official and current Interpol vice president — over fears Moscow could abuse the role to target political opponents.
On Tuesday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo threw his weight behind Kim, who will serve out Meng’s term until 2020.
“We encourage all nations and organizations that are part of Interpol and that respect the rule of law to choose a leader with integrity. We believe Mr. Kim will be just that,” Pompeo told reporters.
Critics have raised concerns over Russia’s previous applications for Interpol “Red Notices,” or international arrest warrants, to target those who have fallen foul of the Kremlin.
Interpol’s president chairs its General Assembly while day-to-day operations are handled by the organization’s Secretary general Juergen Stock.
In an open letter this week, a bipartisan group of US senators said choosing Prokopchuk would be like “putting a fox in charge of a henhouse.”
“Russia routinely abuses Interpol for the purpose of settling scores and harassing political opponents, dissidents and journalists,” they wrote.
Harriett Baldwin, a minister of state at the British foreign office, told parliament on Tuesday that London would support Kim’s bid.
Anti-Kremlin figures had also raised concerns, including Alexei Navalny, the Russian opposition leader who has been repeatedly jailed by authorities.
“Our team has suffered from abuse of Interpol for political persecution by Russia,” Navalny wrote on Twitter. “I don’t think that a president from Russia will help to reduce such violations.”
US National Security Council spokesman Garrett Marquis echoed the endorsement for Kim.
“As recent events show, the Russian government abuses INTERPOL’s processes to harass its political opponents,” he said on Twitter.
The controversy also comes amid security concerns over accusations of Russian agents attempting to poison an ex-spy in Britain and trying to hack the network of the global chemical weapons watchdog.
Ukraine, deeply at odds with Moscow over its annexation of Crimea and support for separatists, threatened to pull out of Interpol if Prokopchuk prevailed. Lithuania also said it would consider withdrawing from the network.
Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed the US senators’ letter as a “vivid example” of an attempt to interfere in the vote.
Moscow’s interior ministry denounced a “foreign media campaign aimed at discrediting Russia’s candidate.”
But two foes of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who have been targeted by international arrest warrants sought by Moscow, also said Tuesday they were launching a bid to get Russia suspended from Interpol for abusing the agency.
The legal challenge was announced by financier Bill Browder, named in multiple Interpol warrants, and Mikhail Khodorkovsky — a former oil baron who spent 10 years in a Russian jail and now lives in exile in London.
“The Interpol constitution has very specific rules which forbid countries who are serial abusers from using the system,” Browder told reporters.
Briefly arrested in Spain this year under a Moscow-issued Red Notice, Browder said the Russian candidacy was an attempt by Putin to “expand his criminal tentacles to every corner of the globe.”
He fought for — and in 2012 secured — US sanctions against Russian officials believed to be involved in the death of his tax consultant, Sergei Magnitsky.
Magnitsky died in jail in 2009 after accusing Russian officials of a $230-million tax fraud.
Russia has rejected the claims and this week announced it was opening a new probe into Browder on suspicion of running a “transnational criminal gang,” even suggesting he was behind Magnitsky’s death.
Russian prosecutors said he would be put on an international wanted list “in the near future.”
Multilingual Prokopchuk worked in tax enforcement before starting as a Russian representative at Interpol in 2006, according to the interior ministry.