Cricket hero Imran Khan sworn in as Pakistan PM

Imran Khan (left) is sworn in as prime minister by Pakistan President Mamnoon Hussain.
Imran Khan (left) is sworn in as prime minister by Pakistan President Mamnoon Hussain.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

ISLAMABAD (AFP) - Pakistan’s new Prime Minister Imran Khan was sworn in at a ceremony on Saturday (Aug 18), officially taking over the reins of power in the nuclear-armed country after his party’s victory in a July 25 general election. 

Khan, 65, won a simple majority from lawmakers in a Friday confidence vote three weeks after an election tainted by claims of military meddling and ballot-rigging. He is expected to lead a coalition government. 

The ceremony at the President’s House in the capital in Saturday marks the end of decades of rotating leadership between the ousted Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), punctuated by periods of army rule. 

A tearful Khan, clad in a traditional black sherwani, smiled as he stumbled over some of the words of the oath administered to him by President Mamnoon Hussain during the ceremony, televised live by the state broadcaster PTV. 

He swore to “bear true faith and allegiance to Pakistan”, and to “discharge my duties and perform my functions honestly, to the best of my ability... and always in the interest of the sovereignty, integrity, solidarity, well-being and prosperity of Pakistan.”

 
 
 

Khan’s third wife, Bushra Bibi – formerly known as Bushra Maneka – kept her eyes cast modestly downwards during the ceremony.  It was her first public appearance since their wedding earlier this year, and she appeared escorted by tight security and covered from head to toe in a white niqab, a conservative garment by Pakistani standards.  

The election was branded “Pakistan’s dirtiest”, with accusations throughout the campaign that the military was trying to tilt the playing field in Khan’s favour. 

The army and Khan have denied claims from rival parties of “blatant” vote rigging.  The former cricketer, who captained Pakistan to World Cup victory in 1992, fell short of an outright majority, forcing him to partner with smaller parties and independents in order to form a government. 

Khan had invited the rest of the 1992 team to the ceremony, and fast bowler Wasim Akram was pictured smiling among the crowd.  Another cricketer-turned-politician, India’s Navjot Singh Sidhu, was seated in the front row and earlier warmly embraced the powerful Pakistan army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa.

First, accountability

Khan and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party campaigned on promises to end widespread graft while building an “Islamic welfare state”. 

“First of all, we will start strict accountability. I promise to my God that everyone who looted this country will be made accountable,” he said in a divisive speech in parliament after Friday’s vote. 

He will face myriad challenges including militant extremism, water shortages, and a rapidly growing population negating growth in the developing country, among others.  Most pressing is a looming economic crisis, with speculation that Pakistan will have to seek a bailout from the International Monetary Fund. 

With the powerful army ruling Pakistan for roughly half its 71-year history, no prime minister has ever completed a full five-year term, and Khan will also have to contend with the same issue as many predecessors: how to maintain a power balance in civil-military relations. 

In the West, Khan is often seen as a celebrity whose high-profile romances were tabloid fodder, but at home he cuts a more conservative persona as a devout Muslim who believes feminism has degraded motherhood. 

Known in Pakistan as “Taleban Khan” for his calls to hold talks with insurgents, he increasingly catered to religious hardliners during the campaign, spurring fears his leadership could embolden extremists.