In addition to religious turmoil, violence and terrorism at home, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan faces a broad raft of geopoltical challenges - and opportunities.  Photo: AFP
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan is seen as subservient to the military. Photo: AFP

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chairman Imran Khan, after taking oath as prime minister of Pakistan, addressed the nation on Sunday. His first speech as prime minister was a reflection of his priorities and may serve as guidelines of his government for the next five years. Some of the important points of his speech are noted below.

Pakistan’s foreign debt has reached 28 trillion rupees (US$229 billion), which is an alarming figure. Most of the borrowing took place during the last 10 years. I believe that borrowing is only justifiable if it is invested in a profit-making project. However, any loan to be spent on luxury items that cannot generate revenue should be avoided. In Pakistan, quite often, we have to borrow even more money just to pay the interest on the debt, which is highly objectionable.

The past two governments borrowed heavily with the intention to passing the debt burden on to future governments. They borrowed money and enjoyed luxuries, but created a big burden for the new PTI government and for the people of Pakistan.

Prime Minister Khan announced austerity measures as a policy guideline to control expenses and improve the economy. He started with himself.

Until now, Prime Minister House was staffed by 524 servants, but he said he wanted to reduce that number two only. He does not want to live in the luxurious PM House, but instead in a normal three-bedroom normal house. The huge official PM’s residence may be turned into a state-of-the-art, research-based university, where international scholars may come and help in quality research.

Officially 80 luxury vehicles, 38 of which were bulletproof, were earmarked for the use of the prime minister, but Khan announced he would reduce that number to two only.

He spent only 50,000 rupees to entertain his guests at the oath-taking ceremony, while previous two prime ministers spent 9.2 million and 7.6 million rupees respectively.

He wanted to set up an example by starting with himself and wanted the rest of the people also to make their lives simple and exercise austerity measures. But where to spend such savings?

He noted that 43% of the nation’s children do not have appropriate diets, affecting their growth, while 22.5 million children in this country cannot afford a good education. Half the population cannot access a routine daily diet easily. His priority is the middle and lower classes. He will spent all such savings on them. At the same time he criticized the elite of the country and asked them to consider the welfare of the poor.

He addressed the issue of tax collection and promised to bring reforms in the Federal Board of Revenue. He requested that the nation consider paying taxes as a religious duty to help the poor, instead of feeling it as a burden and trying to avoid it.

He wants to eradicate corruption and halt money-laundering. He asked common citizens to help government overcome corruption. He may give incentives to those who help eradicate corruption from society. He will keep charge of the Ministry of Interior to fight against corruption and money-laundering.

He emphasized the need to increase exports and attract investments by policy reforms and introduction of new incentives. The SME (small and medium-sized enterprises) sector will be revived so as to improve the national economy.

He promised to reform the police in Punjab province to bring them up to the same level as in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, and judicial reforms to deliver speedy justice and make it affordable for the common man. He hinted at strengthening the National Accountability Bureau to curb corruption. He offered himself for accountability, saying he believes that nobody should be above the law. He believes in equality and in across-the-board accountability.

He also pointed out that child rape is a heinous crime and that he wanted to eliminate this curse from Pakistan.

He also addressed educational issues, health care and water crises. Civil-service reforms are at the top of his agenda. I believe it is only civil-service reform that can make his government deliver whatever he promised.

He also discussed the South Punjab issue, FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) emergence, Karachi’s development plan, global warming and climate change, and farmer-related issues. He also touched on foreign policy.

Overall his speech was humble, simple and straightforward. He touched on almost all important issues and gave hints on his future course of action and priorities. His speech may be considered a policy guideline for his rule over the next five years.

To my knowledge, Imran Khan is an honest and committed person. He will try to do whatever he said. It is time for the whole nation to stand with him, support him, and strengthen him, to realize the long-awaited dream of Quaid’s Pakistan.

Professor Zamir Ahmed Awan is a sinologist at the National University of Sciences and Technology (NUST) Chinese Studies Center of Excellence, Islamabad, Pakistan. Posted to the Pakistani Embassy in Beijing as science counselor (technical affairs) from 2010-16, he was responsible for promoting cooperation between Pakistan and China in science, technology, and higher education.

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