PRIME Minister Imran Khan addresses the media at PM Office on Monday.—PPI
PRIME Minister Imran Khan addresses the media at PM Office on Monday.—PPI

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan revealed on Monday that he had cancelled his scheduled meeting with the Taliban in Islamabad due to ‘concerns’ expressed by the Afghan government.

He said shadows of war were still hovering over Pakistan and India as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration could go for another misadventure before general elections in the neighbouring country.

Also read Dawn's exclusive report: A time for restraint

The prime minister said Pakistan was likely to hit “big” offshore oil reserves near Karachi which would be enough to meet the country’s requirement and save over $12 billion annually on account of oil import bill.

“My meeting with the Taliban was scheduled but it was cancelled due to concerns shown by the Afghan government,” Mr Khan said while talking to a group of media persons at the Prime Minister Office. However, he did not elaborate when and with which Taliban representatives his meeting had been fixed.

Media reports had suggested that after a recent round of talks with the United States in Qatar, the Taliban had called off a planned meeting in Pakistan with a plea that most of the members of their negotiating team were unable to travel because of sanctions by the US and United Nations.

Imran says Modi administration can go for another misadventure before elections in India; Pakistan likely to hit ‘big’ offshore oil reserves near Karachi; no law to allow Nawaz Sharif to get medical treatment abroad

A statement in this regard was issued on Feb 17 — a day before the militant group was scheduled to arrive in Islamabad to meet Prime Minister Khan and possibly US officials. It did not provide further details.

War hysteria

Responding to a question about India’s war hysteria, the prime minister said: “The danger is not over. The situation will remain tense till forthcoming general elections in India. We are already prepared to avert any aggression from India.”

He said Indian Prime Minister Modi was trying to cash in on anti-Pakistan narrative during his election campaign.

Oil discovery

Talking about possibilities of “big” oil discovery near Karachi shores, Prime Minister Khan said: “The country will become self-reliant in fuel oil if possible reserves near Karachi are successfully tapped.”

He said the government was spending $12bn annually on import of oil and once the local reserves were dug out that huge amount would be saved. Urging the nation to pray for big recovery, the prime minister said he would soon give “good” news to the people.

Nawaz Sharif’s health

Responding to a question about the bad health of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, PM Khan said there was no law in the country which permitted him to allow the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) supreme leader to get medical treatment abroad.

“Should we change the law to allow him [Mr Sharif] to get his medical treatment abroad? Should we allow all 150,000 convicts to get their medical treatment in foreign countries? This is mere blackmailing,” he added.

He said the government was providing best facilities to Mr Sharif for his treatment in the country. “Nawaz Sharif remained prime minister of the country three times but he could not give such a single hospital where he can get his medical treatment. He [Mr Sharif] increased his factories from one to 30 but could not establish a hospital,” he added.

Prime Minister Khan said former finance minister Ishaq Dar’s father used to sell bicycles while he [Mr Dar] was getting his treatment in London.

Answering a question about Pakistan Peoples Party chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, he said the PPP leader was afraid of his own accountability by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB). He said PPP leaders were involved in money laundering through fake bank accounts. “Air tickets of model Ayan Ali and Bilawal were purchased from the same bank account,” he claimed.

The prime minister said NAB cases against “save-democracy” political parties were not made in the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government. “They [PPP and PML-N] appointed NAB chairman, not us,” he added.

He said NAB was not subordinate to the government but the anti-graft watchdog should lay its hands on big fish instead of indulging in petty cases.

Replying to a question about his palatial private residence on a hilltop of Banigala, the prime minister said he bore the entire expense of his house from his own pocket. “I spent Rs6 million for erection of barbwire around my house and got constructed its road by selling a ‘gift’.”

Economic crisis

Talking about the economic crisis, Prime Minister Khan said his government had inherited the financial crunch as the previous government had left a record debt of Rs30 trillion. “If my government takes less loans it means we are in the right direction.”

He said the PTI government had taken steps to stop money laundering, adding that foreign reserves were increasing and investors were coming to Pakistan. Lauding the government’s foreign policy, he said it was on the right direction. “Earlier, the US was asking us to do more but now it is praising us and acknowledges that there will be no peace in Afghanistan without Pakistan,” he added.

During the media talk, the prime minister was accompanied by Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry, Finance Minister Asad Umer and Chairman of Task Force on Energy Sector Reforms Nadeem Babar.

Speaking on the occasion, Mr Umer said that progress had been made in talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and now both sides were closer to a deal. He claimed that the government had successfully cut down the country’s imports to 72 per cent and managed to handle the economic crisis to some extent.

Nadeem Babar gave a briefing on the position of natural gas and regretted that over the past five years, not even a single licence was issued to explore gas. He said the local fields were facing a 5-7pc decline in production and the government had tendered 10 new blocks of which six were processed, while 30 more were under way.

Published in Dawn, March 26th, 2019