In address to Parliament, prime minister invites opposition to work with government to enact electoral reforms ahead of the next general elections
Prime Minister Imran Khan on Wednesday reiterated that Pakistan is willing to partner with the United States for peace, but never again for conflict.
“The U.S. was defeated in Afghanistan and they tried to shift the blame of their defeat on us,” he said in a post-budget speech to the National Assembly that was also attended by the opposition following an agreement that the premier would not target them during his address. Stressing that he had always advocated a political solution to the Afghanistan conflict, Khan said Afghans were “brothers” to Pakistanis, adding that Islamabad knew their mindset better than Washington.
“We will not comprise on the country’s [Pakistan] sovereignty,” he said, adding that the U.S. had been trying to force Pakistan into bringing the Afghan Taliban to the negotiating table. However, he stressed, Pakistan did not wish for any “strategic depth” in the war-torn state and would “respect the decisions of the Afghans.”
Khan regretted that Pakistan had chosen to aid America in its war on terror by capturing “our own people” and sending them to Guantanamo Bay. “Former president Pervez Musharraf admitted this,” he said. “We sacrificed 70,000 people and wasted $150 billion in the war against terror,” he said, adding that Al Qaeda had not targeted Pakistan until the Tora Bora incident.
“We received directions to send our troops to the tribal areas in pursuit of a few hundred people,” he said, stressing that people living in the tribal areas had paid a hefty price as collateral damage in drone attacks. He claimed that Pakistanis had been unable to differentiate between their friends and enemies in the midst of the war on terror, as a country [U.S.] cannot launch attacks “on its ally.”
Slamming Musharraf’s government, he said it had not “had the courage to say no to the U.S. and kept on lying to the people.” He also reiterated that Pakistan was willing to talk with India—but only after it rescinded its decision to abrogate the special constitutional status of Jammu and Kashmir.
Khan commenced his speech by lamenting the controversies that arose after every elections, and urged the opposition to work with the government on reforms that would help achieve that aim. “After 1970, all elections have been controversial,” he said, and pointed to this year’s Senate polls and by-elections as also having been made controversial.
The prime minister said the government wanted to make the electoral process acceptable to all parties, as this would benefit democracy. “The time has come to make the country’s elections acceptable to everyone,” he said and referred to his own party’s demand for recounting of votes after the 2013 polls.
“We have come to the conclusion that EVMs [electronic voting machines] are the only solution,” he claimed, but noted that if the opposition had any better ideas, it should share them with the government so they could be considered.
Fiscal Year 2021-22 budget
Lauding Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin and his economic team, Khan said the budget they had presented reflected his vision for Pakistan. “When we began our struggle 25 years back, we had one aim: to build an Islamic welfare state—the objective of our country’s founders,” he said, claiming that there was “no justification for Pakistan’s existence” if the country did not fulfill this.
The prime minister said the budget reflected three core principles—justice, humanity, and self-sufficiency—and praised his financial team for ensuring it embodied all three aspects. He reiterated that the government had struggled after it came to power because of a massive current account deficit. “It was very painful when we had to take tough decisions that had, and continue to have, consequences for the people,” he said and thanked allies U.A.E., Saudi Arabia and China for helping save the country from default. Had we defaulted, he said, investors would have pulled their money out of the country’s capital market. “We tried not to approach the IMF, but eventually, we had to. Following that, the coronavirus emerged and battered an already struggling economy,” he said.
Praising the National Command and Operations Center, as well as Planning Minister Asad Umar, Special Assistant to the P.M. on Health Dr. Faisal Sultan, the Pakistan Army, and others involved in helping curb the spread of coronavirus, he said Pakistan had fared far better than its regional neighbors. Referring to more developed nations, he said inflation and unemployment had spiked in every country where lockdowns were imposed. “We did not shut down everything and thus saved the people from such ordeals,” he added.
Khan also discussed challenges faced by the agricultural sector, including locust invasions, adding that despite all this, record harvests of wheat, rice, and corn were recorded. “Unfortunately, we have not paid attention to the agricultural sector in the last few years,” he said and vowed to give it more incentives to make Pakistan self-sufficient in essential edibles. He said Rs. 60 billion had been allocated in the budget to uplift the agriculture sector. Tax exemptions of Rs. 100 billion rupees would be given to enhance the productivity of the sector and ensure food security, he added.
“We also gave incentives to the export industry, and it grew by 17%,” he said, noting that exports had hit a record $2.7 billion in June, while the country’s GDP had grown by 4% due to the government’s efforts to revive the economy. He said the economic team was working on plans to incentivize the boost the small and medium enterprises sector to generate economic activity and provide job opportunities to the youth.
Referring to the government’s welfare programs, he said Rs. 500 billion had been earmarked to uplift 4-5 million people belonging to the weakest segments of society. He said the government would provide people with interest-free loans, health cards, technical training, and low-cost housing to alleviate poverty. He said the Ehsaas program would give 12 million deserving households direct subsidies on the purchase of essential commodities from utility and general stores.
The prime minister noted that Rs. 5,800 billion tax collection target had been set for the new fiscal, adding this was an “ambitious target,” but was achievable through FBR reforms. “Willful tax defaulters will be put into jail,” he warned.
Khan also commended overseas Pakistanis for record remittances in the past year, and urged them to invest in various sectors of Pakistan’s economy.
A day earlier, the government had passed the budget with a majority, despite opposition lawmakers claiming they would “give a tough time” to its passage.