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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 September 2018

Pakistan's Imran Khan under fire for lavish helicopter commute

Military sources say PM's flying cost close to Dh250 per kilometre 

Labourers, who set up the venue, sit under a wall with a billboard displaying a photo of Imran Khan. Reuters 
Labourers, who set up the venue, sit under a wall with a billboard displaying a photo of Imran Khan. Reuters 

Prime Minister Imran Khan's political opponents have been quick to capitalise on news that the Pakistani leader takes a 15-seat helicopter from his home to his office, questioning how it sits with his pledges to end VIP culture and usher in a more accountable, austere new era.

His promised austerity drive to cut government waste has provoked a row over the cost of his daily helicopter commute and allegations newly-appointed officials are using private jets to transport their families.

A government attempt to diffuse the row ended in widespread online mockery when a minister claimed Mr Khan's daily trips cost little more than a taxi ride.

Fawad Chaudhry, the information minister, insisted the daily flights to the office cost 55 rupees (1.6 AED) per kilometre and then defended the cost estimate saying he had “seen this on Google”.

“I am thinking of disposing family’s old Corolla and getting a cheaper, more reliable form of transport, said Miftah Islmail, a former federal finance minister. “Can’t decide if I should get a Suzuki or a helicopter.”

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A cartoon in Dawn, the oldest English language daily in the country, suggested Mr Khan's cut price helicopters could put taxi drivers out of business.

Other commentators said security concerns justified Mr Khan travelling by helicopter, but he had made himself a hostage to his own gesture politics. The country is still tackling terrorist insurgent groups including the Pakistani Taliban and a local branch of ISIS.

Mr Khan has previously criticised the cost of convoys of dozens of vehicles that transported members of the prior government under Nawaz Sharif. He has already said he will forego the lavish Prime Minister's house and instead use a three bedroom house with only two servants. In his inauguration he symbolically chose to wear an old sherwani coat, rather than have a new one made.

The transport row has been deepened by the emergence of photographs of Punjab's chief minister, Usman Buzdar, travelling with his family by private jet.

Mr Khan has been using one of the government's seven Agusta Westland AW139 helicopters for the 15km daily commute from his home in Bani Gala.

Military sources quoted by the BBC said the true flying cost was closer to Dh250 per kilometre, though with staff and security costs that would be far higher.

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