Prime Minister Imran Khan on Sunday criticised the partial coronavirus lockdown imposed by the Sindh government against the federal government's wishes, explaining that doing so would break the back of the common man.
He expressed his views on the issue while conversing with the people of Pakistan in a live question-and-answer session via telephone.
The premier began the session by thanking the people of Pakistan for cooperating with the government over the first three waves of the Covid-19 pandemic, and urged them to again adhere to the SOPs to curb the spread of the ongoing fourth wave.
He then addressed the government of Sindh's decision to impose a partial lockdown to curb rising Covid-19 cases, saying it hadn't taken into consideration the hardships of the poor.
"We had a small problem between the federal government and Sindh," the PM admitted. "Sindh government wanted to impose a lockdown, which is the correct decision and will curb the spread of virus.
"But on the other hand, the thing to see is that will we be able to save the economy from the lockdown? Then there is the issue of hunger ... the daily wage earners and especially the poor section of our society ... how will they make ends meet during the lockdown?"
The prime minister cited the example of "destruction in India" to tell Sindh government "never to impose a lockdown until you have the answers to these questions."
"Their (Indian) government imposed a lockdown at once without thinking anything of the public. They only thought of the upper class and elite like us," the PM said. "Sindh government should know that when you force a lockdown you are going to keep people hungry. You cannot keep hungry people under a lockdown if you do not have the resources to bring them food."
PM Imran said that the policy of smart lockdowns and mass vaccinations was the way to go, as he stressed that the economy that has "survived very difficult times and is headed on an upwards trajectory" should not be hurt at any cost.
'Free media is a blessing'
The first caller was a woman who told the PM that she was defrauded by a man for Rs6 million over 10 years ago, and complained that the authorities had arrested the suspect and a case filed but no recovery was ever made. To this, the prime minister instructed that her details be taken assured that full efforts would be made to assist her.
Another from a minority community called for a quota in jobs to be provided. The prime minister told her he would instruct the provinces for such quotas.
During the session, a broadcast journalist also called and told the prime minister that he wanted to verify if the QnA session was indeed genuine and live. At this, Prime Minister Imran replied that only those rulers that "break the law or believe in the rule of power rather than the rule of law or are corrupt are fearful of free media".
"A free media [and] freedom of expression is a great blessing for a country," he said, adding that it was the role of media to act as a "watchdog".
He explained he only disagreed with the media when "fake news and propaganda" was spread, referring to the revelations in the EU DisinfoLab report that uncovered an Indian disinformation network against Pakistan.
"Journalists from Pakistan are feeding fake Indian accounts that are doing propaganda against the Pakistan Army and prime minister. I only have a problem then [otherwise] real journalism and criticism is a big blessing for a country."
The prime minister was then relayed more personal problems by two retired soldiers and a farmer. He assured them all that help would be provided to them.
'No one being saved in Noor murder case'
Answering a question by a woman about the grisly murder of Noor Mukadam in Islamabad and what steps the government would take for women's safety, Prime Minister Imran said he had been following the Noor murder case from the first day and termed it a "horrifying" incident.
Citing details provided to him, the premier said the "tragedy" had occurred over the course of two days in front of the whole domestic staff of the alleged killer, Zahir Jaffer.
He denied the impression that the suspect would be saved because he belonged to a powerful family. "I want to tell you that no one is being saved in this. Even if he thinks he is a dual national and has American citizenship so he will get away, that is not the case," he said.
The prime minister noted that the case had "shocked everyone", saying everyone had been pained by it and it had had "a big impact".
"Noor's murder is a big tragedy and I want to reassure [the nation] that no one, no matter how powerful they are, will escape full punishment in the case."
Recalling the alleged brief abduction of the Afghan ambassador's daughter in Islamabad, the premier said he had followed the case "as if she was my own daughter".
"Afghans are our own people, we consider them brothers so we saw the [incident] in the same manner," he said, crediting the capital police for following "every single thing" in the case and interviewing the suspects after identifying them through CCTV footage.
Talking about urban and civic issues, Prime Minister Imran said a major problem afflicting Pakistani cities was that their master plans had not been made, while those that were made were "destroyed".
He gave the example of Islamabad, saying its master plan was repeatedly violated despite it being the only planned city in the country. "No one saw where water would come from and where the trash would go," he said, adding that this was why he had ordered that city masterplans be made.
"This means a city won't grow beyond a certain extent; instead of that, it will go up," the premier said. "Dubai has gone vertical and so has New York, if they started expanding then they would never be able to provide water, electricity and amenities."
Referring to the Ravi Riverfront Urban Development Project that the government plans to launch, Imran said a new city will be built to save the water of Ravi, which he said had turned into "a dirty nullah".
"Similarly we had thought of Bundal Island in Karachi but unfortunately the Sindh government is not letting us make it and I dont understand that because all the benefit [of the project] is to Sindh," he added.
Restrictions on Pakistani flights
During the session, the prime minister received a call from a woman who said she was a Saudi iqama (residence permit) holder but was stuck in Pakistan since last year due to the suspension of flights to the kingdom. She urged the premier to take up the issue with Saudi Arabia due to his "personal relations" with the country.
Prime Minister Imran responded that he was "fully aware" of the issue and had taken it up with the Saudi foreign minister during his recent visit to Pakistan. He said he had sent a message to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman that "many of our people are being affected so [try and find solutions] to whatever their problems are."
"He (Saudi FM) assured me that he would solve our problem when he returns," the premier said.
Similarly, another caller relayed difficulties faced by Pakistanis in Scandinavian countries due to flights of Pakistan International Airlines not being allowed to land in Denmark and Norway. The prime minister said the issue of pilots' licences was close to being resolved.
"We hope that we will again get permission for flights [to Europe] and I know this is a problem for overseas Pakistanis," he added.
Rigging in AJK election
Answering a question regarding the opposition's claims of rigging in the recent Azad Jammu and Kashmir general elections and PP-38 Sialkot by-election, the prime minister disputed the allegations.
He questioned how rigging could occur when the local administration and government both belonged to the PML-N, which he said also had the powers to make appointments to the election commission and designate police duty for election day.
"Rigging can't happen unless the election commission colludes with you," the premier emphasised.
He said electronic voting machines (EVMs) were the only solution to resolve the issue of post-election rigging claims, adding that the government was fully focusing on them. He recalled that the Ministry of Science and Technology had developed a prototype and shown it to the media.
The government hoped that EVMs would be used for media and bar elections, Prime Minister Imran said. "Then the nation will understand there is only one way to solve the problems of rigging."
Answering a question regarding the timeline of giving overseas Pakistanis the right to vote, the premier said considerable progress had been achieved with EVMs and only the Election Commission of Pakistan remained to be convinced on their use.
He said it was the government's effort to include the nine million overseas Pakistanis in the voting process through modern technology such as e-voting. "If not e-voting then we definitely have to do postal ballot and include overseas Pakistanis in the process of our elections," he added.