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.”


New Zealanders give up guns after massacre, but some face blowback

A man looks at firearms on display at Gun City gunshop in Christchurch, New Zealand, March 19, 2019. (REUTERS)
Updated 8 min 11 sec ago
0

New Zealanders give up guns after massacre, but some face blowback

  • Police said they did not have data available on the number of weapons handed in since Friday
CHRISCHURCH, New Zealand: New Zealanders have begun handing in weapons in response to government appeals following the Christchurch massacre, but the gesture has put some squarely in the social media firing line.
John Hart, a farmer in the North Island district of Masterton, decided to give his semi-automatic rifle to police after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced on Monday plans to tighten gun laws in light of the slaughter Friday of 50 Muslim worshippers.
She also encouraged owners to surrender unnecessary firearms after it emerged that the accused mosque attacker, Australia white nationalist Brenton Tarrant, had legally acquired the guns he used in the rampage.
Hart said it was an easy decision for him to hand in his semi-automatic and tweeted that “on the farm they are a useful tool in some circumstances, but my convenience doesn’t outweigh the risk of misuse. We don’t need these in our country.”
The tweet drew a barrage of derogatory messages to his Facebook account — most apparently from the US, where the pro-gun lobby is powerful and vociferous.
Hart deleted the messages but posted online: “A warm kia ora to all my new American Facebook friends.”
“I’m not familiar with your local customs, but I assume ‘Cuck’ is a traditional greeting,” he said of the insult, short for “cuckold’, frequently used by far-right extremists.
Hart told AFP many of the messages made inaccurate references to his sexuality.
“It was very sudden. It started about the time the US east coast was waking up. There seemed to have been a rallying call,” he said.
A more mild message, from Kaden Heaney asked: “What’s the point of giving up yalls personal guns? Yall do realize what happens to societies that give up their guns right? Evil people will get their hands on guns, knives, bombs or whatever they want to kill no matter what the intentions of good people are. Who will protect you.”
Christopher @offwhiteblogger said: “You did the right thing then; you clearly aren’t responsible enough to own a firearm.”
Police said they did not have data available on the number of weapons handed in since Friday.
But they issued a statement saying that “due to heightened security and the current environment, we would ask that people please call us first before attempting to surrender a firearm.”
A person calling himself Blackstone tweeted: “this is one of the easiest decisions I have ever made. Have owned a firearm for 31 years ... Once I realized that, the only way I could go forward with a clear conscience was to hand it into the police for destruction.”
Ardern has said that details of the government’s proposed law changes on gun ownership will be announced by next week, but she indicated that gun buybacks and a ban on some semi-automatic rifles were under consideration.
“As the Cabinet, we were absolutely unified and very clear: the terror attack in Christchurch on Friday was the worst act of terrorism on our shores, it was in fact one of the worst globally in recent times, it has exposed a range of weaknesses in New Zealand’s gun laws,” she said.
New Zealand police, meanwhile, were investigating a suspicious fire at a gun club in the far north of the country, but were not immediately linking it to the current gun debate.
There had also been a fire at the same club a year ago.