Pakistan’s prime minister claims there are no curbs on media in his country, hails ‘excellent’ relationship with armed forces
The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf government and its ministers feel “unprotected” due to “blatant propaganda” against them by some media outlets, Prime Minister Imran Khan claimed during an interview with Al Jazeera on Thursday.
Responding to a question on mounting concerns over enforced disappearances and intimidation of journalists in Pakistan, the prime minister challenged interviewer Hashem Ahelbarra to provide evidence of any curbs on media freedom during his two years in power. “No government in my country’s history has faced such criticism… criticism I don’t mind… but there has been blatant propaganda against the government,” he said, adding that it is not the media that feels “unprotected” but rather government ministers who have to combat fake news. “If we lived in Britain, we would have won billions in defamation cases by now,” he said.
To a question, Khan acknowledged that Pakistan’s civilian and military leaderships had a “checkered relationship” in the past, but noted that his government had no such issues. “The military stands with us,” he said, adding it was “an excellent relationship.”
The prime minister said the military stood with the government’s democratic policies, and claimed both were on the same page on various issues, including the India policy and the peace process in Afghanistan.
Referring to the Afghan war, Khan said the past 20 years had created such divisions in society that it was impossible to implement peace suddenly. “I was the first person to advocate peace talks,” he said, adding that if his stance had been adopted earlier, the situation might not have spiraled out of control.
“This is the nearest we have got to peace in Afghanistan and a political solution,” he said of the current situation. “Whatever the Afghans think is good for them, is good for us,” he said, adding Islamabad had done its best to encourage Kabul and the Taliban to negotiate peace.
The prime minister admitted there were some “spoilers” to the peace process and pointed at India as being against peace in the war-torn state. “Instability there [in Afghanistan] creates instability in the border regions what were former tribal areas of Pakistan and that creates a problem for the whole country,” he said.
To a question on Pakistan’s ties with India, Khan said he had offered friendship to India after being elected prime minister. “The tragedy of India is that it is being ruled by an extremist,” he said. “It is an extremist government. It is a Hindu supremacist government inspired by the ideology of the Nazis,” he said, adding that the RSS had been thrice banned in India but its offshoot BJP was now in control of a nuclear-armed country.
To another question on whether Khan felt Pakistan had failed to convince Western countries on the plight of India-held Jammu and Kashmir, the prime minister said it was unfortunate that economic interests were taking precedence over human rights. “We will keep trying [to highlight this issue],” he said.
The prime minister stressed that Saudi Arabia would “always be a friend of Pakistan,” but admitted that Islamabad wanted the Organization for Islamic Cooperation to take the lead in condemning India’s actions in Kashmir.
He also weighed in on the normalization of ties between Israel and the U.A.E., saying no “one-sided” solution could work. “Israel must realize this. If they do not allow the Palestinians to have a just settlement, a viable state, this issue’s not going to die down. Even if some countries recognize Israel, it’s not going to die down,” he said.
To a question on whether his stance on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor had changed—in 2018, a senior lawmaker had alleged that the PTI would renegotiate “bad deals” with China—Khan claimed he had always supported the Belt and Road Initiative. “Pakistan’s economic future is linked to China,” he said. “China is growing at a faster pace than any other country and Pakistan can really benefit from the way China has developed,” he added.
To another question on whether Pakistan’s relationship with China would damage its ties with the U.S., Khan said it didn’t have to be an “either/or” situation. “Why does Pakistan have to be in any camp?” he questioned. “Every country looks to its own interest. Why can’t we have good relations with everyone,” he said, and reiterated his claims that Islamabad and Washington enjoyed the best relations they had ever had because they were now “partners for peace in Afghanistan.”
The prime minister concluded his interview by rejecting a question on whether he felt he had little time left to deliver on the many promises he had made during his campaign for office. “I feel Pakistan has great potential,” he said and reiterated his claims that the PTI had “totally reversed” policies that were making the rich richer and the poor poorer. “We now make policies for the poor,” he claimed.
“Our construction policy, the education policy and our economic policies are all aimed at getting the poor out of poverty,” he said, adding that his government had also provided healthcare insurance in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and was introducing a uniform education syllabus across the country from next year.