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Khan Vows Reforms, End Of Corruption In First Address As Pakistan Prime Minister

Imran Khan (left) takes the oath of office as Pakistani prime minister with President Mamnoon Hussain in attendance on August 18.
Imran Khan (left) takes the oath of office as Pakistani prime minister with President Mamnoon Hussain in attendance on August 18.

Imran Khan has vowed to slash government spending and wipe out corruption as he spoke to the Pakistani public for the first time since being sworn in as prime minister.

Khan, a former cricket star, spoke on August 19 for more than an hour in the televised address, telling the audience that "I want to see Pakistan a great country" with social services for the poor.

Khan, who was voted in as prime minister by lawmakers on August 18, lamented the growing divide between rich and poor in the Muslim-majority nation of some 200 million people.

He said he would enact austerity measures to ease pressures on the economy and bring down Pakistan’s foreign debt, which now stands at more than $95 billion.

"The interest that we have to pay on our debt has reached a level that we have to take on more debt just to repay our obligations," said Khan.

He called on Pakistanis living overseas to put their money in Pakistan’s banks to help the country emerge from the current financial crisis.

Khan also addressed topics not usually taken up by Pakistani prime ministers, such as fighting child sex abuse and climate change.

He said he would bid to improve relations with neighboring countries, although he did not specify which countries.

India Rapprochement?

Pakistan’s relations with nuclear rival India have long been frayed, with direct talks stalled amid diplomatic rows and occasional skirmishes along the frontier that divides the disputed region of Kashmir.

On July 30, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi called Khan to congratulate him on his party's victory in Pakistan's July 25 general election, and both men expressed hopes for regional peace.

Meanwhile, Kabul and Washington have accused Pakistan of providing a safe haven for insurgents that conduct attacks on U.S., Afghan, and other troops in Afghanistan, then flee back across the border into Pakistan, charges that Islamabad denies.

"We want peace, because Pakistan cannot prosper until the peace is restored," Khan said.

As part of domestic efforts to trim the size of government, Khan announced a series of cost-cutting measures, including selling off most of the vehicles normally used by the prime minister, reducing staff, and converting the official residence into a university.

He also said he wanted to establish a progressive tax system to bring in more from the rich and to spend the additional funds on the neediest citizens, such as malnourished children.

Tax avoidance is rampant in Pakistan, and he did not specify how he would enforce any new tax legislation.

"I will fight the corrupt. Either this country will survive or the corrupt people," he said.

Stunning Rise

Khan's election to the premiership marked his stunning rise from struggling politician to the highest civilian office in the country.

Born to a privileged family and educated at Britain's Oxford University, Khan was known for his playboy lifestyle and married wealthy British heiress Jemima Goldsmith in 1996. He has since remarried twice.

During the election campaign, Khan criticized Pakistani liberals and embraced conservative Islam as a politician, promising an Islamic justice system.

He allied himself with extremist religious groups with ties to militancy.

Supporters of Pakistan's opposition political parties have protested alleged fraud and voting irregularities in the July elections, directly blaming the country's powerful military.

Pakistan's army denies it intervened to help Khann take power. Khan vowed to investigate the allegations once he took office.

With reporting by AFP, AP, and Reuters

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