In question-and-answer session with public, prime minister reiterates derision of opposition leaders, claims only salaried class suffering from inflation
Prime Minister Imran Khan on Sunday warned his opponents that he will be far more dangerous for them if he is forced out of office, claiming that they will have “nowhere” to hide if he launches a protest movement.
“If I exit the government, I will pose a greater threat to you [opponents],” he said while responding live to queries from callers on national television. “Right now, I am sitting quietly in my office and watching the drama unfold. But if I take to the streets, you will have nowhere to hide,” he said, adding that “the public has seen your true colors.”
Referring to the leadership of the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), he claimed that he would rather talk to the banned—and extremist—Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan than Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shahbaz Sharif, as it would be akin to accepting the “corruption” of the Sharif family. “The office of the opposition leader has respect, but I do not consider him [Shahbaz] an opposition leader, rather he is someone who has committed serious crimes against the country,” he said, without acknowledging that his government has failed to prove any of the charges it has framed against the PMLN leader.
He also lashed out at former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who has been in the U.K. since leaving Pakistan in 2019. “I am waiting for you … please come back,” he said of claims from the PMLN that Sharif would return to the country at an “opportune” time.
Despite claims from various senior government leaders, including Information Minister Chaudhry Fawad Hussain, that the PTI was ready to sit with the opposition on important national issues, Khan reiterated that he would not reconcile with any members of the “despicable” opposition. He rebutted predictions of a total rout of his party in future polls—as already evidenced by its showing in by-elections and the first phase of the local government polls in Khyber-Pakhtunkha—and said that the PTI would not only complete its five-year tenure, but also win another term in office.
“The people recognize your [opposition] true face now and whatever you have done with this country over the last 30-35 years,” he said. “You need to understand that the lava is simmering. Once people take to the streets, they only need to be pointed in your direction, and you’ll see every one of them running off to hide in London,” he claimed.
Not our fault
Responding to a query on inflation, the prime minister claimed it was the “only problem” that kept him up at night, but stressed that this was a global phenomenon and not the fault of the government. Claiming that all economic indicators were on an upswing, he said the country was suffering because of its reliance on imported commodities and tax evasion.
Referring to developed economies such as the U.S. and U.K., he said the COVID-19 pandemic had disrupted supply chains, resulting in a massive increase in prices of commodities, including fuel. “I expect it [fuel tariffs] to increase even more,” he warned.
Acknowledging that the salaried classes had been hardest hit by inflation, he claimed the government would provide them relief once it had achieved its tax collection targets. He also claimed that industries were prospering and questioned why their profits were not being passed on to employees.
During his response, Khan accused the media of failing to present the “true reality” of the country’s economy, adding that journalists were painting a “bleak” picture of the situation. Harkening back to his favorite accusation of “mafia” for any group that does not align with his perceptions, he alleged some journalists were trying to advance the agenda of the opposition and refusing to project the achievements of the government. Claiming that “positive criticism” was a good thing, he said this needed to be differentiated from propaganda and fake news.
The prime minister emphasized that the PTI’s tenure had seen the country’s GDP increase by 5.37 percent despite the COVID-19 pandemic. He claimed that the construction sector was booming and that salaries for construction workers had shot up due to the high demand for skilled labor. He also claimed that the agriculture sector was prospering, maintaining that their income had increased by Rs. 165,000 per head.
Large-scale manufacturing, he said, had grown by 10 percent, while revenue from tax collection had reached over Rs. 6,000 billion. He also took credit for growth in I.T. exports, claiming incentives had helped it reach $31 billion, and hailed remittances hitting $30 billion.
To another question on accountability, Khan said his government was trying to reform the criminal justice system, adding the problem with ensuring justice was that “cartels” secured stay orders from courts to avoid legal action. He said he hoped the judiciary would stop “supporting” mafia and cartels and work to ensure welfare of the people.