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

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.”

Dharavi slum beats Taj Mahal as India’s top tourist destination

Updated 25 June 2019

Dharavi slum beats Taj Mahal as India’s top tourist destination

  • The squalid district was featured in Oscar-winning movie ‘Slumdog Millionaire’
  • Tour groups to Dharavi normally consist of around five to six people, with visitors guided through its cramped alleys

NEW DELHI: One of the world’s biggest slums, located in Mumbai, has pipped the famous Taj Mahal to become India’s favorite tourist destination.

Dharavi, where close to 1 million people live in an area of just over 2.1 square kilometers, was named by travel website TripAdvisor.com as the 2019 top visitor experience in India and among the 10 most favorite tourist sites in Asia.

The slum has grown up on swamp land in the center of the coastal city of Mumbai over the past 150 years and has poor infrastructure and a lack of basic sanitation and hygiene facilities.

The squalid district was featured in the 2008 Oscar-winning movie “Slumdog Millionaire,” which tells the story of a Mumbai teenager accused of cheating on the Indian version of TV gameshow “Who Wants to be a Millionaire.”

However, in 2012, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author Katherine Boo portrayed a new side of life in the slum in her book “Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Slum,” which showed it bubbling with hope in a changing world.

The recent Bollywood movie “Gully Boy” also gives the slum a new look with a coming-of-age tale based on the lives of street rappers.

“Slum tourism started in 2003 for the first time but it picked up after the movie ‘Slumdog Millionaire,’” said Dinesh Bhurara, who runs travel agency Mumbai Dream Tours.

“Dharavi is not like a slum, but it is a city within the city. It is well-organized and people from all communities and religions coexist together. They work very hard. When tourists come, they see a new life in the slum which they don’t see in Mumbai and outside. This connects with foreigners,” Bhurara told Arab News.

Bhurara, 24, was born and brought up in Dharavi and started his travel business three years ago after gaining experience with other tour operators.

“People have lots of misconceptions about Dharavi. Movies like ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ stereotyped the slum by showing its poverty, underbelly and by typecasting characters. But it’s not like that. When tourists visit it’s an eye-opener for them,” he added.

Tour groups to Dharavi normally consist of around five to six people, with visitors guided through its cramped alleys, and shown around houses and businesses.

“For tourists this is an educational tour. They learn how business is done here, and how people survive with their sheer efforts and aspirations. They also go to business and industry areas,” said Bhurara.

The peak season to visit Dharavi is between November and May with travel agents recording an average of 200 foreigners touring the slum every day during the season.

Bhurara charges 700 rupees ($10) per person for a four-hour trip to Dharavi and has five partners who run the tours with him. “When we take tourists inside the slum, we not only take them into an area, but we also take them into our lives and show them how life can exist even in this space. Many get inspired and are awestruck by the sheer energy inside the slum.”

He said the tourist influx had encouraged many Dharavi youngsters to learn foreign languages as a way to earn a living and he himself had taken up Spanish.

According to Bhurara the majority of tourists are from Europe and China. “People in Dharavi are now attuned to foreigners visiting them and they really appreciate that. For youngsters it’s an extra opportunity to earn some more. So many college students pick up foreign languages to earn something extra,” he added.

Dharavi is a hub of small industries with exports of leather and recycled goods reportedly worth $1 billion a year. More than 4,000 businesses operate there alongside thousands of single-room factories where migrants workers from eastern and western India are employed.

“Many people, even in Mumbai, are not aware of this part of Dharavi,” Vinay Rawat, a tour operator, told Arab News. “In Mumbai people come to see the most expensive house of the industrialist Mukesh Ambani and they also want to see the cheapest place in Mumbai which is Dharavi.”

Rawat added that wealthy people lived in Dharavi where new high-rise buildings had been constructed. He said people had lived there for four generations but that there were fears that the prime land could fall into the hands of property developers.