'Can be partners with US in peace but never in conflict,' says PM Imran in wide-ranging NA budget speech

Published June 30, 2021
Prime Minister Imran Khan speaks in the National Assembly on Wednesday. — Photo courtesy: PM Imran's Instagram
Prime Minister Imran Khan speaks in the National Assembly on Wednesday. — Photo courtesy: PM Imran's Instagram

Prime Minister Imran Khan on Wednesday strongly emphasised that Pakistan could be "partners with the United States in peace but never in conflict" and criticised past policies that had led to Pakistan joining the US war on terror in Afghanistan.

He made the comments during a wide-ranging speech in the National Assembly, a day after the budget for the new fiscal year was approved with a majority vote.

"When we gave so many services, did they (US) praise us or acknowledge our sacrifices? Instead, they called us a hypocrite and blamed us. Instead of appreciating us, Pakistan was bad-mouthed."

Read: 'US couldn’t win the war from inside Afghanistan after 20 years — how would it do it from bases in Pakistan?'

The prime minister said that as a Pakistani, he had never felt more "insulted" than when Pakistan decided to join the United States war on terror. "We decided to become a front line state for the American war on terror. I questioned repeatedly, what did we have to do with the war?"

He said he wanted the nation to remember that period forever and the "idiocy" of the policies at the time.

"Does any country get involved in another's [war] and lose 70,000 lives?" he asked. "What they (US) said, we kept doing. [Former president Pervez] Musharraf said in his book that he took money and sent people to Guantanamo [Bay jail].

"The matter did not stop there, they (US) ordered us to send our army to tribal areas. We sent our army to tribal areas. They were our people. What was the result of that?" he questioned. "I was called Taliban Khan when I said this was wrong."

The premier termed it the "darkest period of our history" when Pakistan did not know which was a friendly country and which was not. "Have you heard of a friendly country carrying out attacks and drone strikes in your country?" he asked.

"A terrorist is sitting in London since 30 years. Will they give us permission to attack him?" he questioned in an apparent reference to Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) founder Altaf Hussain.

"If they will not give permission then why did we? Are we subhuman or half human or do our lives not have enough value?" he thundered.

The prime minister said that in a meeting of the US Senate, an American commander had claimed that the Pakistan government did "not tell the truth" to its citizens. "We disrespected ourselves, the world did not disrespect us."

He said that overseas Pakistanis hid their faces after the raid by US Navy Seals in Abbottabad in which Osama Bin Laden was killed because "our ally did not trust us enough to carry out the attack."

Read: 10 years after his death, Bin Laden's memory lives on in Abbottabad

The events of those days dented the nation's self-esteem and Pakistanis became "ashamed of themselves", he said.

The premier warned that a "very tough time" was coming for Pakistan in view of the situation in Afghanistan. He said he was thankful that the US had recognised there was no military solution to the conflict in the neighbouring country but it should have done so earlier.

"Afghanistan has never accepted interference from outside. If we were proactive and a self-respecting government stood up and said [the US] is wrong, then we would have protected them (Afghans)."

Prime Minister Imran said that after deciding that there was no military solution to the conflict in Afghanistan and setting an exit date, the US wanted Pakistan to bring the Taliban to the negotiation table.

"What leverage do we have? We can only tell them that if you go [towards military activity] then there will be civil war."

Read: US pullout deadline diminished Islamabad’s leverage, says PM

The premier clarified that Pakistan did not want to have favourites or choose sides, insisting "whoever Afghan people choose, we are with them."

Electoral reforms

The premier said that all elections in Pakistan after 1970 had been "controversial", including the recent polls for the Senate.

He said that the PTI government had been trying to bring election reforms for the last two years so parties would accept the results of the election even if they lost. However, the opposition had been refusing to discuss the proposed reforms with the government for over a year, he pointed out.

Requesting the opposition to engage with the government on electoral reforms, the prime minister said it was a matter of the "future of Pakistan's democracy".

"The time has come that [when] we contest elections, no one worries about being defeated through rigging," he added.

He recalled that when he wanted to give a speech in parliament after being elected prime minister, the opposition refused to allow him to speak claiming that the election had been rigged. "When [former US president Donald] Trump claimed the same, the media asked him to give proof."

He said the PTI had made efforts to stop rigging after the 2013 general elections and as a result of its efforts, a judicial commission was formed in 2015 which stated that "irregularities happened when the polling ended".

"We came to one result — the only solution is EVMs," he stressed. "All that [post-voting] period rigging can be eliminated if result comes [immediately] after election."

The premier said his government was "ready to listen" if the opposition had any other "advice" regarding the reforms, warning that if they were not passed, rigging could happen in future Senate elections and by-polls.

Moving on to the budget for FY22, the premier said he first wanted to talk about his vision. "The budget should reflect a country's vision," he said and paid tribute to Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin and his team who he said had "made the budget according to my vision for Pakistan".

Prime Minister Imran said the budget should reflect three principles: justice, humanity and self-independence.

He said that when the PTI government came to power, the country's biggest problem was the current account deficit. "[Pakistan] had the biggest deficit in history which means our currency was in danger. Our team was new and we had no experience ... We took many difficult steps to stabilise our economy which were painful."

The premier thanked countries like UAE, Saudia Arabia and China for "protecting us from defaulting".

He shared that his government had avoided going to the IMF initially because of its "strict conditions" but it was forced to do so because of the tough economic situation of the country.

Covid response

"Then Covid came. An economy which was already in pain, it got Covid," he said, adding that Pakistan was a "fortunate nation" because God had "specially protected us" as compared to some other countries.

Prime Minister Imran cited the government's decision of "quickly deciding not to impose a complete lockdown" as the reason that Pakistan remained protected from the worst effects of the pandemic.

"The opposition attacked us, we were criticised for two months for no lockdowns," he recalled.

After the coronavirus situation improved, the government "quickly decided to open construction," he said, adding that it also tried to reopen agriculture and export sectors as well.

"The State Bank of Pakistan incentivised and helped industry. We helped small and medium industries; 20.5 million households were given money through our Ehsaas programme. So, thank God we got out in a splendid way. We saved the economy and because we imposed smart lockdowns in a focused way, we saved people."

Economic growth

He cited the government's "protection" of agriculture as well as record crop production for the 3.9 per cent economic growth rate in FY21. A big reason for the record crop production was the government's decision to make sure that farmers were paid the full support price on time, he added.

Talking about further measures his government had taken, he said: "We incentivised export industry and it grew 17pc in one year. Our exports in June were $2.7 billion which is an all-time record for the month in Pakistan.

"We held negotiations with the construction industry and tried to give them incentives because when [that industry] starts running, 30 related industries also start."

The government was "very clear about Pakistan's direction in the future", the premier emphasised, saying the country's economic growth would be led by exports.

"One reason for an increase in imports is import of machinery. With time, we will reach record exports. We are also giving attention to small and medium industries (SMEs). The finance minister is looking at ways and devising a policy to give them loans and ease regulations.

"In agriculture, we are doing many things. Punjab is introducing the Kisan Card which will have a database of farmers, and small farmers will [receive direct] subsidies on fertilisers and pesticides."

Welfare state

The premier said he was happy because the budget for FY22 allocated the "highest amount for social protection in Pakistan's history".

Pakistan was moving towards becoming an Islamic welfare state for the first time, he said.

"By next month, we will have data on all income levels of families and according to that, the [poorest] 40-50pc families will be brought into the [government's social welfare] programme. We have dedicated Rs500bn for them," he said, disclosing that it would include interest-free loans, health cards, technical education, low-cost housing and scholarships.

Reacting to the prime minister's speech, PPP Chairperson Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari said the premier had spoken about an "alternate reality, alternate country and alternate economy".

He said that Pakistanis did not want to listen to history or Islamic lessons or what was happening in Scandinavia. Instead, they wanted to listen to the prime minister talk about what was happening in Pakistani cities and what solutions he had to the nation's problems, the PPP chairperson added.

Bilawal questioned whether the performance of the government's economic team was worthy of congratulations when the prime minister had "fired [finance ministers] three times".

A day earlier, the National Assembly had passed the budget for the new fiscal year with majority vote amid a dismal showing by the opposition.

A confident-looking Prime Minister Imran had attended the proceedings for only 50 minutes and left the assembly hall even before final vote on the budget after realising that his presence was no more required in the house to ensure the presence of the treasury members who had clearly outnumbered the opposition.

The prime minister had entered the assembly hall at a time when the chair had already ordered a headcount on the demand of the opposition on the motion moved by the finance minister to take up the finance bill for consideration and final vote. The motion was approved with 172-138 votes.

When the budget was put for approval through a voice vote, almost all the PML-N members had left the house leaving behind the PPP and Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam members.

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