ISLAMABAD: Rejecting the Indian government’s propaganda, Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thursday defended his government’s decision of opening the Kartarpur border to facilitate the Sikh community in reaching its religious site, saying it is part of his party’s manifesto to open religious sites in Pakistan for pilgrims from all over the world.
The response from the premier came during the 15th meeting of the federal cabinet where he termed it unfortunate that Indian media was giving ‘political colour’ to the positive gesture of Pakistan.
“We have not done it to gain any political mileage. We did it as it is part of our party’s manifesto,” Mr Khan said in his opening remarks. He went on to say that there were religious sites in Pakistan which were important for Hindus and Buddhists. “We should open them up and facilitate the believers of these religions,” he added.
The PM said that it was the responsibility of the government to protect the sacred places of Buddhists, Hindus and Sikhs. He said that the Sikh community had responded very positively to opening of the Kartarpur border. “We hope that India will also respond positively in return”, the premier hoped.
The second issue he raised in his opening remarks was, according to him, the recognition of his party’s 15-year stated position that there was no military solution of Afghanistan. He said that for the first time America had recognized this fact which he said he had been propagating for so many years that Afghan problem can only be solved through dialogue and political settlement.
“The United States has for the first time recognised what the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI) has always been saying that there is no military solution to Afghanistan,” he said.
The premier said that the American delegation led by Special Envoy for Afghan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad had recognized his party’s position. “It is an honour for us that our position on Afghanistan has been finally acknowledged”, the premier told the cabinet, adding that now America wanted Pakistan to play a role in restoring peace in that country.
“Now they want us to help them in restoring peace in Afghanistan”, he said, referring to whatever influence Pakistan can have on Taliban to bring them to negotiating table. He went on to say that Pakistan would play its role for peaceful settlement in Afghanistan. However, he regretted that this role should have been played much earlier.
Ambassador Khalilzad recently visited Islamabad as part of US efforts to seek Pakistan’s assistance in seeking an end to war in Afghanistan.
He said that Pakistan’s role to promote peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan had been recognised.
Imran Khan, in his brief remarks aired by the state-run PTV, said that his government was also looking forward to play its part in seeking a mediated settlement to the crisis in Yemen. As part of the peace process, he also touched upon Pakistan’s offer to act a mediator in the Yemen conflict. He said that he already spoke to Saudi Arabia and Iran on the subject. “Iran’s foreign minister gave us a go-ahead to try and see what could be done. We will try our best in this regard as well”, the premier said.
Deflecting criticism of a possible change in portfolios of his economic team, Prime Minister Khan came in out support of his team — finance, planning and commerce ministries — for their efforts to steer the economy out of stress. “I laud their efforts while working under great pressure”, the premier said, adding that he gave them special credit.
As a result of these efforts, he said, various multinational companies had pledged to invest in Pakistan. The premier recalled the promised investments in various sectors and specially mentioned that among others Exxon — the largest gas drilling company in the world — had come back to Pakistan after 27 years. “The company will initially invest $200m in the country and they are saying that by next summer, they expect to know exactly how many off-shore gas reserves we have.”
After the cabinet meeting, Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Media Iftikhar Durrani and Minister of State on Revenue Hammad Azhar briefed the media about other decisions of the cabinet.
Mr Durrani said that a committee had been constituted under the head of State Minister for Interior Shahryar Afridi to look into the cases of those deserving people who had been affected by the ongoing encroachment drive in the federal capital. He said that similar instructions were given to the governments of Punjab and Khyber Pakhutnkhwa to support the poor people who had been hit by the anti-encroachment drive.
“We will support the poor people”, he said, adding that the drive was meant to focus on bigger land grabbers.
He said that the granting of provincial status to Gilgit Baltistan had been deferred for more consultation with all stakeholders.
He said that the cabinet had approved the decision of the Economic Coordination Council and directed that farmers’ interests should be kept on top while giving subsidy on sugar exports by the provinces.
He said that law for rights of disabled persons had been approved along with rules for appointment of chairman of Evacuee Trust to bring transparency.
The cabinet approved negotiation on anti-money laundering agreement with Canada, devolution of seven functions from economic affairs division to respective divisions and posting of seven officers from immigration department.
Mr Azhar said that the cabinet had approved introduction of the National Poverty Alleviation Programme and initially Rs18bn had been allocated for it. The funds will be used for providing assets like establishment of workshops etc. Preference will be given to women and disabled people.
He said that a new gas reserve had been discovered in Sindh and handed over to the Sui Southern Gas Company.
To a question, Mr Azhar said that the Pakistan desk in Washington- based International Monetary Fund would engage Pakistan for programme talks in later part of January next year.
He said that the government believed in full autonomy of the State Bank of Pakistan.
To another question, he said that Finance Minister Asad Umar had directed the Federal Board of Revenue not to make the newly notified tax body on immovable property functional until all legal issues were addressed. He said that withholding tax rate had not been reduced yet.
Published in Dawn, December 7th, 2018