Islamabad: Cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, who in the past had made hardline statements but has been conciliatory towards India of late, was sworn-in as Pakistan’s new Prime Minister on Saturday in a ceremony marking the second peaceful democratic transition from one civilian government to another in the country’s 71-year history.
The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chief shed a tear and also smiled when he was officially handed the reigns of power by President Mamnoon Hussain at the Aiwan-e-Sadr (President House) here.
Former Indian cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu, who was one of the few former cricketers invited by Khan, was seated in the front row. He was seen warmly embracing Pakistan’s Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa prior to the ceremony and sitting next to the Prime Minister of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) that created some ripples back home in India.
High-profile guests including outgiong caretaker Prime Minister Nasirul Mulk, National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser, Air Chief Marshal Mujahid Anwar Khan and Naval Chief Admiral Zafar Mahmood Abbasi were in attendance.
Members of the 1992 cricket World Cup winning team that Khan captained to victory were also invited.
On his part, Sidhu welcomed the “change” in the country being brought about by the coming in of the Imran Khan-led government and expressed the hope that his “friend’s victory would be good for the peace process between the two neighbours”.
Other notable guests included cricketer-turned-commentator Rameez Raja, legendary pacer Wasim Akram, newly- elected Punjab Assembly Speaker Chaudhry Pervez Elahi, singers Salman Ahmed and Abrarul Haq, actor Javaid Sheikh and former National Assembly Speaker Dr Fehmida Mirza and senior PTI members.
A visibly overwhelmed Khan, dressed in a traditional black sherwani, stumbled over some of the words of his oath, while promising to “bear true faith and allegiance” 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”.
The oath-taking ceremony commenced at 10.10 a.m. with the national anthem followed by recitation of verses from the Holy Quran.
Khan’s third wife Bushra Imran was also present, making her first public appearance since the couple married earlier this year. She was covered from head to toe in a white niqab.
His first wife, Jemima Goldsmith, was not in attendance. Neither were the couple’s two sons. “The boys really wanted to be there but their father told them not to come,” Goldsmith tweeted.
After the swearing in ceremony, Khan went to the Prime Minister’s house in the capital, where he was given a Guard of Honour.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres congratulated him on assuming the office and the government of Pakistan Twitter account shared felicitations from the UN chief.
“The UN chief hopes for deepening of UN-Pak cooperation in various fields including the world body’s flagship peacekeeping operations around the globe,” the tweet read.
Khan was elected Prime Minister in a vote at the country’s National Assembly on Friday, beating his opponent, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) President Shehbaz Sharif. His party had won most of the seats in the general election.
Later, in a speech to Parliament, he vowed to speed up the anti-corruption campaign and focus on generating the country’s own revenues to avoid taking loans.
“Neither shall I spare anyone who looted the country’s money nor shall I give any relaxation to anyone who robbed the national exchequer. I shall introduce strict accountability for all.”
“I did not climb on any dictator’s shoulders; I reached this place after struggling for 22 years.”
However, opposition parties alleged vote rigging by the powerful security establishment and have held regular protests since last month’s election.