Imran Khan sheds hundreds of servants and says Pakistan's elite must pay tax as his first cabinet is sworn in

(Independent) -- Pakistan is to auction off a fleet of 88 luxury vehicles from the prime ministerial protocol after the new prime minister, former cricket star Imran Khan, declared he would live “a simple life” in office.

On Monday, all 21 members of Mr Khan’s cabinet were sworn in in Islamabad, mostly political veterans to counterbalance the relative inexperience of the new prime minister himself who – at 65 years old – has never previously held office.

In his first speech as prime minister, Mr Khan announced he would pursue a policy of austerity, seeking to wean the country off its huge debts.

The former captain of Pakistan’s cricket team and playboy associate of the stars has remodelled himself as a pious figure in recent years – and he indicated that the country’s new path of austerity would begin with himself.

In addition to foregoing the scores of bulletproof vehicles that have protected his predecessors from the threat of militant attacks, Mr Khan said he would take only a small security detail and two domestic servants in place of the 524-strong staff reserved for a sitting premier.

Criticising what he called the colonial-era mindset and lifestyles of Pakistan’s ruling elite, the prime minister also said on Sunday that he would live in a small three-bedroom house instead of the palatial official residence to which he is entitled.

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

Mr Khan’s appointments on Monday suggested there was change coming too in the sphere of foreign policy, though he did not mention any specifics in his speech.

The new foreign minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, said there were challenges ahead in the way Pakistan deals with its neighbours, allies and foes overseas and that revisions to foreign policy would be made “in the interest of Pakistan”.

He welcomed a congratulatory message from the Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, that expressed a desire for open and frank talks.

And he said he hoped to visit Kabul soon to deliver a message of solidarity to the Afghan government. “Pakistan needs a peaceful and stabilised Afghanistan,” he said. “Our future is linked to peace in Afghanistan.”

It was the new information minister, Fawad Chaudhry, who announced on Monday that prime ministerial vehicles would be auctioned soon.

And he also revealed the government is placing former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz on a travel ban list. They are appealing sentences of 10 and seven years respectively on corruption charges relating to the Panama Papers leak.

The appointments of both Mr Qureshi – a former foreign minister with the PPP party, and Mr Chaudhry – a former spokesman for two different parties – highlight how Mr Khan has been forced to draw on figures for his cabinet with political backgrounds outside his own PTI party.

Dawn, the country’s leading independent newspaper, cautioned that Mr Khan might struggle to drive forwards with his agenda when so many important positions are held by coalition partners.

And it questioned whether meaningful reforms could be achieved when the cabinet is dominated by old hands who, in the main, represent the political status quo.

The other key tenet of Mr Khan’s first prime ministerial speech was an appeal to overseas Pakistanis to invest in the country and for the wealthy to start paying taxes. Tax avoidance is a perennial problem in a nation where less than 1 per cent of the population files income tax.

“It is your responsibility to pay taxes,” said Mr Khan. “Think of this as a jihad [struggle or battle], that you need to pay tax for the betterment of your country.

What next for Russia’s super-r…