ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thursday indicated that Pakistan was on the verge of hitting a kind of jackpot in the form of discovering a huge reserve of oil and gas.
“Just pray that our hopes and expectations from the offshore drilling being carried out by the ExxonMobil-led consortium prove to be true,” he said.
“There’s already been a delay of about three weeks, but if the indications we are getting from the companies are anything to go by, there’s a strong possibility that we may discover a very big reserve in our waters. And if that happens, Pakistan will altogether be in a different league,” he said.
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In an informal chat with a group of newspaper editors and other senior journalists, Mr Khan didn’t share details of the offshore drilling process. And there has been no official word from ExxonMobil and the international oil exploration company ENI which have been involved since January in drilling an ultra-deep well (230km inside the sea) for oil in what is known as Kekra-1 area.
Imran lists stabilising economy as biggest challenge country is facing
ExxonMobil returned to Pakistan after nearly a decade after surveys were carried out last year suggesting the possibility of big oil reserves within the Pakistani waters.
The prime minister believes that if big oil reserves are discovered, most of Pakistan’s economic problems will be addressed and then there will be no stopping the country’s progress.
Talking about various challenges his government was confronted with, Mr Khan said that bringing about economic stability remained his biggest challenge.
He said when he took charge, the foreign reserves were extremely low and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) was putting extremely tough conditions, like “asking us to allow free floating of the rupee”.
Mr Khan said that with the help of friendly countries like the UAE, China and particularly Saudi Arabia, the government managed to improve the situation. Now, he said, even the IMF had relaxed its terms and things were moving in the right direction.
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He was quite critical of the Federal Bureau of Revenue (FBR) and said they had been scaring away businessmen, which “has compelled us to transfer their policy-making powers to another entity, leaving them with the task of collecting tax”.
He said there were serious solvency issues as at the moment more than 60 per cent of the country’s wealth was in the form of black money. The bulk of this money was being parked in real estate, with the result that the property prices had been skyrocketing and hardly any money was being invested to boost trade and development.
This, he said, needed to be reversed for which some unpopular measures would have to be taken.
Mr Khan said apart from the challenge to revive the economy, the other problems included “institutional building and creation of jobs”. The massive housing scheme the government was coming up with would help address the latter to some extent.
The other challenge he spoke about in detail was of combating terrorism and the so-called “jihadi culture”. When asked to comment on the remarks of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a recent radio interview, Mr Khan didn’t respond directly but said the reality was that Pakistan could not live or survive in isolation.
In fact, he said, no country in the world could allow private militias to operate at will. “Here is a situation that on the one hand India is wrongly blaming Pakistan for the Pulwama attack just because Jaish accepted responsibility, and on the other, even Iran is complaining that militant groups have been using our soil to carry out attacks.”
He said all the political parties had already agreed to the National Action Plan and by now the militant groups have been proscribed. Further action was being taken against them as his government could not allow any such activity on the soil of Pakistan.
Tracing the history of jihadi outfits and “jihadi culture”, he said “these groups have existed since the days of the US-led Afghan war against the Soviets in Afghanistan, and have operated from here for decades”.
However, he said there was no room now for any such group in the country, as Pakistan would like the world to believe that it was not only a peace-loving country but it was sincere in eradicating this culture of “jihadism” and terrorism through short-term and long-term policies.
Premier Khan said it was all the more important “as we have to satisfy FATF [Financial Action Task Force] of our compliance mechanism as we can’t afford to be black-listed”.
Towards the end of the press talk when an unexpected question was thrown at the prime minister about the possible grant of extension to the chief of army staff, he handled it quite nicely. Mr Khan was asked that since he and the COAS were on the same page on most of the issues, and the relationship was going well, was he considering giving him extension in service?
His prompt reply was: “I have not even thought about it.” He went on to add that there was still a lot of time as “November is far away”. While remaining non-committal on the matter, Mr Khan wrapped it up by saying “in politics even one week is a long time.”
Published in Dawn, March 22nd, 2019