Khan walks the talk in Pakistan austerity campaign

Pakistan's new Prime Minister Imran Khan inspecting the guard of honour during a ceremony in Islamabad last Saturday.
Pakistan's new Prime Minister Imran Khan inspecting the guard of honour during a ceremony in Islamabad last Saturday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

New PM says he will sell cars, ditch servants to cut debt, while urging rich to pay taxes

ISLAMABAD • Pakistan's new Prime Minister Imran Khan has called for the rich to start paying taxes and said the country will begin an austerity drive to reduce debt, a campaign he will kick-start by selling his office's fleet of bullet-proof cars.

In his first address to the nation as Premier on Sunday, Mr Khan set out his vision for a "New Pakistan" and spoke at length about the need to reshape the country by introducing an Islamic welfare system, reducing poverty and slashing high debt levels.

"We have formed a bad habit of living on loans and aid from other countries," he said, speaking under a portrait of his hero and Pakistan's founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah. "No country can prosper like this. A country must stand on its own feet."

Mr Khan, 65, a former cricket legend, was sworn in as Prime Minister last Saturday after his party won last month's election.

A firebrand populist, Mr Khan has seen his appeal soar in recent years on the back of his anti-corruption drive, which has resonated with young voters and the expanding middle class in the mainly-Muslim nation of 208 million people.

But he has inherited a host of problems at home and abroad, including a brewing currency crisis and fraying relations with Pakistan's historic ally, the United States.

Mr Khan did not shed any light on policy plans to deal with the currency woes that analysts expect will force Pakistan to seek another International Monetary Fund bailout. Instead, he focused on debt and said former central bank governor Ishrat Husain would lead a task force to drive austerity.


Criticising what he called the colonial-era mindset and lavish lifestyles of Pakistan's ruling elite, Mr Khan announced that he would live in a small three-bedroom house instead of the palatial prime minister's residence.

He plans to have only two servants instead of the 524 reserved for a sitting premier. He also announced plans to sell a fleet of bullet-proof vehicles to help Treasury shortfalls, a bold move in a country where Islamist militants still pose a threat.

"I want to tell my people, I will live a simple life, I will save your money," he said.

Mr Khan appealed to overseas Pakistanis to invest in the country and urged the wealthy to start paying taxes, a perennial problem in a nation famous for tax dodging and where less than 1 per cent of the population files income tax.

He said that Pakistan was in grave danger from the effects of climate change and promised to reduce some of the world's highest maternal death and infant mortality rates.

He also spoke passionately about the need to help 22.8 million out-of-school Pakistani children in a nation where the literacy rate hovers above 40 per cent.

Mr Khan, who has never held a government position, named his 21-person Cabinet at the weekend, opting mostly for experienced politicians.

Opponents criticised the choices, saying about half of the Cabinet had served under former military dictator Pervez Musharraf and were part of the old guard. On Sunday, Mr Khan announced he will oversee the Interior Ministry.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 21, 2018, with the headline 'Khan walks the talk in Pakistan austerity campaign'. Print Edition | Subscribe