• Claims there’s no ‘mega’ corruption scandal during his two-year rule
• Denies curtailing freedom of speech
• Says India is being ruled by extremists
• Demands ‘just settlement’ for Palestinians
• Rejects notion Pakistan trying to renegotiate some aspects of CPEC deal
KARACHI: Describing his relationship with the army’s top brass as “most harmonious”, Prime Minister Imran Khan said on Thursday that the military fully supported his government’s policies whether relating to India or Afghanistan.
The prime minister’s assertion came in response to a question by Al Jazeera, which interviewed him via a remote video link upon completion of two years in office.
Mr Khan was visibly upset when the interviewer asked him as to why “senior military officers” were being given responsibilities of major government departments when he should have been putting more “civilian faces” for the country’s international image.
“What international image,” Mr Khan snapped back. “This is a democratic government. We won an election ... we challenge anyone to question the election. We asked the opposition name us any constituencies which you think you didn’t get a fair result we are ready to open them up,” he said.
When asked to describe his relationship with the “army’s top brass”, he acknowledged that Pakistan had a chequered history as there had been an uneasy relationship between the successive civilian governments and the army.
“We have an excellent relationship [with the army’s top brass]. I honestly think it is the most harmonious relationship. We have complete coordination, we work together, the military completely stands by all the democratic government’s policies whether it is with India, whether it is for peaceful solution in Afghanistan...everywhere the military stands by us,” the prime minister said.
‘No corruption at top level’
The prime minister claimed that there was no “mega” corruption scandal during his two-year rule. When he was reminded that Pakistan’s middle class that saw an alternative in him was massively affected by the current economic situation, Mr Khan said it took time and the struggle to change the direction of the country.
“Corruption is one of the biggest killers of society...today there’s no mega corruption scandal in Pakistan because at the top level we controlled it,” he claimed. “Problem is still we have corruption low down the level, which is again going to be a struggle, we need to take a lot of steps eventually to control corruption at all levels. Its struggle and it’s not going to happen quickly,” he added.
“And so reason why we have not been able to clamp down on corruption is because those who come into power and make money using the power to make money have never been held accountable. This is for the first time in our history that the powerful are being held accountable,” he continued.
The prime minister was asked about the situation of freedom of speech in Pakistan and the interviewer, while reminding him of his own words that “there is absolutely no way that the media freedom, or freedom of speech, would be curtailed under my watch”, pointed out: “It’s now being curtailed under your watch, Mr Prime Minister.”
“What is the evidence...can you just tell how we are curtailing the freedom of speech?” asked the prime minister upon which the interviewer quoted some of the rights organisations saying Pakistan has one of the worst records in enforced disappearances.
“In my two years in power tell me how many journalists are kidnapped in Pakistan,” Mr Khan said and added: “Unfortunately, it’s us, the government and the ministers, who feel unprotected. It’s not the media. There is not one instance. In these two years it’s unheard of. What would they call intimidation? I mean if someone publishes fake news against the prime minister and the prime minister then takes him to the court...is that intimidation?”
Relationship with India
When asked if he had hopes he would sort out the issue of Jammu and Kashmir with his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi, Prime Minister Khan said it was a tragedy that India was being ruled by extremists.
“Just make it clear I do not believe in military solutions. I have never believed in military solutions. The moment I became prime minister I extended a hand of friendship to India, but the tragedy of India is that it is being ruled by an extremist, Hindu supremacist government inspired by the ideology of Nazis.
“Look at the history of RSS, which is basically ruling India, it was an extremist organisation, thrice outlawed in India as a terrorist organisation. They now control 1.3 billion people nuclear armed,” he said.
When asked if he felt the western powers had abandoned Pakistan as it had been trying to rally international support on the Kashmir issue but nothing happened, the prime minister said Kashmir had been a disputed territory between New Delhi and Islamabad for 70 years and last year in August India took it over by brute force.
“We have knocked on all doors and will keep doing so,” he said, warning that any escalation between Pakistan and India would have implications for the rest of the world.
“The reason why certain parts of the world are not responding is because unfortunately countries worry about their commercial interests. They look upon India as a huge market and so they are willing to ignore this huge travesty of justice that is taking place there [Kashmir]. It doesn’t mean that we are sitting down and accepting this. We will keep trying,” he added.
At this point, the interviewer asked the prime minister if it was because of this anger and frustration that Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi spoke against the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) which had angered the Saudis.
“It’s not frustration,” responded the prime minister. “Yes we want OIC to take a more front role in this whole thing. Yes we did. But let me make it clear, Saudi Arabia will always be a friend of Pakistan. But yes we want OIC to take a bigger role in this whole thing.”
The prime minister said the Israel-Palestine issue would not be resolved unless there was a “just settlement” for the Palestinians, even if more countries decide to recognise Israel.
“Any one-sided settlement which is going to be imposed on the Palestinians is not going to work,” he said when asked about the recent normalisation of relations between the United Arab Emirates and Israel.
“Israel must recognise this that if they do not allow the Palestinians to have a just settlement, a viable state, this issue will not die down,” he said, adding: “Even if other countries recognise it, it will not die down; the issue will continue to fester. It is in Israel’s interest that there should be a just settlement.”
‘Our future now linked with China’
When asked about the progress of the $62 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, Prime Minister Khan rejected a perception that Pakistan was not happy or trying to renegotiate some aspects of the deal.
“Our relationship with China is better than ever before. For us, the way we look at it is...our future, economic future is now linked with China,” he said, adding: “China is growing at a faster pace than probably any other country and Pakistan can really benefit from the way China has lifted its people out of poverty.”
Against this backdrop, the interviewer asked whether Pakistan was resetting its relationship with the United States, PM Khan asked him: “Why it has to be an either, or? Why does Pakistan have to be in any camp? Every country looks to its own interests. Why can’t we have good relations with everyone?”
He said: “We probably have the best relationship with United States right now because we are partners in peace in Afghanistan. We did not have such a good relationship a few years back...we have a very good relationship right now.”
Published in Dawn, September 4th, 2020