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June 12, 1998


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Sweeping Pak reforms to counter sanctions

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharief has said Pakistan will survive the economic fallout of detonating six nuclear devices.

In a 60-minute televised address to the nation yesterday, he announced sweeping land reforms, a 50 per cent cut in government spending and incentives to small businessmen.

Sharief promised an ''economic revolution'' to counter economic sanctions from an international community outraged that Pakistan conducted nuclear tests.

Saying it was an ''honour'' to be counted among the world's nuclear powers, Sharief said, ''We (now) have to pay the price.''

The first order of business will be to confiscate 1.25 million acres of land from some of the country's largest and most powerful land owners, he said.

When the British left the subcontinent in 1947 they gave huge tracts of land to local leaders as payment for their loyalty. That land will be taken away and given to the country's landless, said Sharief.

''All I ask of you is to work hard on the land and make it prosperous,'' he said.

This move is expected to cause an uproar among the powerful landowners in Pakistan, many of whom are members of Parliament.

Sharief, by contrast, comes from one of Pakistan's biggest business families.

Among his reforms is a promised 50 per cent cut in government expenses. He said he will be moving out of the palatial prime minister's residence and converting the 60-acre home into a state guest house.

Earlier Sharief moved his staff out of a newly constructed 400-room prime minister's secretariat and put it up for sale.

He also warned people with outstanding bank loans that they had four weeks to pay back their bad debts or ''we will make a horrible example of you.''

It is estimated that there are more than two billion dollars in outstanding loans with national and private banks in Pakistan.

Within hours of detonating its nuclear devices on May 28, Pakistan imposed a state of emergency in the country and froze all foreign currency accounts to prevent a panic exodus of foreign capital.

Sharief said as a businessman he cringed at having to impose economic restrictions, but with a foreign exchange reserve of barely $ 1.3 billion he said he had very little choice.

Other economic measures he announced included: reducing the size of Pakistani missions abroad, ending the purchase by government officials of cars and furniture, no more government-paid travel or medical treatment outside the country.

He also announced a 50 per cent cut in imports of such staples as edible oil and tea.

''We have taken the first step... Toward self-reliance and prosperity,'' he said.


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