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‘Give Us Three Months’

by Newsweek Pakistan

Prime Minster Imran Khan urges senior journalists to allow his government some breathing space before criticizing their actions

Prime Minister Imran Khan urged a select group of senior broadcast journalists on Friday to avoid the lure of propaganda and allow his government three months before criticizing its performance.

The meeting, held at Prime Minister House in Islamabad, covered a wide range of issues facing the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf-led government since it came into power following general elections on July 25. The P.M.’s Office did not issue any official statement on the meeting.

Addressing the media, Khan said he welcomed their criticism, but the newly formed government should be given some time to prove itself. He said his party had never formed the government before and lacked full understanding of some issues, adding that when the PTI had formed the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government after the 2013 general elections, it had taken them 100 days just to fully understand the scope of the issues facing them. “We are much better this time,” he said, according to journalist Fareeha Idrees. There will be significant difference in the country’s fortunes after three months, he added.

Referring to the Supreme Court’s suo motu notice of the late night transfer of the Pakpattan District Police Officer after he allegedly insulted first lady Bushra Bibi’s family, the prime minister said it was a welcome development. “This will allow the people to hear both sides of the story,” he said, alleging that his wife’s family had been harassed several times and he had merely directed the Punjab chief secretary to look into the matter.

Prime Minister Khan defended his nomination of Usman Buzdar as Punjab chief minister, claiming the provincial leader’s critics would be singing his praises after three months. He said Buzdar had been selected purely on merit, adding that he was the only candidate who had appealed for development of his constituency during his post-election meeting with the prime minister.

The prime minister also weighed in on his use of a helicopter to fly to his Bani Gala estate from P.M. House. Khan said he used the helicopter to avoid causing traffic jams that were a hassle for the common man. He said the maintenance charges and pilot fees for the helicopter would be paid regardless of whether or not he used it, adding that there were significant threats to his life that had forced him to move out of Bani Gala. “I would have been perfectly happy living in my own home and traveling to my office [by car],” he added.

Khan also briefed the attending journalists on his recent meeting with National Accountability Bureau Chairman Javed Iqbal. He said the government wanted indiscriminate accountability, adding that he would not spare anyone within his own party if they were found guilty of corruption. He also said that none of his cabinet members had been appointed “permanently” and could be removed from office or shuffled around based on their performance.

The prime minister said the government had three major issues facing it—the debt crisis, the energy crisis, and his recently launched austerity drive—with the biggest challenge being a circular debt of Rs. 1,200 billion. “Ultimately, everything is related to economy, even foreign policy,” he said.

Commenting on international diplomacy, Khan said the PTI government wanted peaceful ties with India, Afghanistan and Iran but would not compromise the national interest. Discussing the upcoming visit of U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, he said all relations would be dictated by mutual respect and no “wrong” demands would be accepted. “We can’t fight the United States,” he added.

Referring to the international agreements inherited from the previous government, Khan said his government would review all of them and would cancel any that were proven to be against the national interest.

The prime minister also briefed the journalists on his eight-hour meeting with the senior military leadership at General Headquarters in Rawalpindi earlier this week. He said Chief of Army Staff Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa and the entire military establishment had assured him of their full support for the PTI-led government. He alleged the previous government’s claims of a civil-military divide was “propaganda” and did not reflect reality. “We are not facing any undue pressure from any institution. We’re working with the security institutions in accordance with the Constitution,” he added.

While he was meeting the journalists, the prime minister reportedly refused to take a pre-scheduled telephone call from French President Emmanuel Macron, claiming he was busy.

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