NEW DELHI: Imran Ahmed Khan Niazi, better known as Imran Khan, was sworn in as the 22nd Prime Minister of Pakistan by President Mamnoon Hussain at a low-key ceremony at the Aiwan-i-Sadr, or President’s house in Islamabad on Saturday.
Known for his aggressive confidence on the pitch, the former cricket captain was visibly overwhelmed during the ceremony, smiling sheepishly after fumbling over the oath in Urdu, and stumbling during a tri-services guard of honour presented to him later.
The VIP guest list included, among others, his cricket teammates of 1992 and India’s cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu. Pictures of Sidhu hugging Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa and sitting next to the President of Pakistan occupied Kashmir Masood Khan caused a stir back in India. Two other former Indian cricketers, Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev, had declined Imran’s invitation. Reports said the ceremony’s menu of nine dishes was reduced to refreshments only on Khan’s request as part of his “austerity drive”.
“It’s our duty that we go back and ask our government to take a step ahead, and I hope if we take one step forward, people here will take two steps forward. Gen Bajwa sahab hugged me and said, ‘We want peace’. So, let’s swim in a blue ocean and shun red ocean. It’s my dream,” Sidhu was quoted as saying soon after the ceremony in Pakistan.
Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf emerged as the largest party in the July 25 elections, securing 116 seats in the 342 member lower house, but short of the 172 needed for a majority. After some intense wrangling with independents and smaller parties, Khan won a simple majority in Pakistan’s National Assembly on Friday with 176 votes, beating Shahbaz Sharif of the PML who got 96 votes.
The ceremony ended decades of rotating leadership between the ousted PML-N and the PPP, and long periods of military rule. After taking oath, Khan and his wife mingled with the guests before leaving for the Prime Minister’s residence, where he received another guard of honour.
Sidhu, now a Congress minister in Punjab, had skipped the funeral of former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who had inducted him into politics in 2004, on Friday to attend Imran’s swearing-in. “I am going to Pakistan as a goodwill ambassador,” he had told journalists before crossing the Wagah-Attari border on Friday, carrying a Kashmiri shawl as a gift for Imran.
“Who the hell died and made him a goodwill ambassador?” fumed retired Colonel Kailash Dar. “On the day he crossed the border, a soldier from 32 Rashtriya Rifles and two civilians, including a woman, were killed by terrorist s**** from Pakistan. What ‘goodwill’ is this clown without a circus talking about?”