Was Balakot strike more damaging to Pakistan or Imran's ouster, asks Asad Umar

Published May 19, 2022
PTI leader Asad Umar (C) addresses a press conference in Islamabad. — DawnNewsTV
PTI leader Asad Umar (C) addresses a press conference in Islamabad. — DawnNewsTV

Senior PTI leader and former planning minister Asad Umar on Thursday questioned whether the airstrike by India in Balakot in 2019 was more damaging to Pakistan or the no-confidence vote that saw Imran Khan ousted as prime minister, an event he said led to the country's dire economic straits.

"I was asking people. Tell me whether the strike by India in Balakot — in which a crow and 12 trees were hit — caused more damage to Pakistan or the no-confidence motion which was introduced through foreign interference and caused political instability?" he asked during a press conference in Islamabad.

Umar, who was speaking alongside PTI leaders Ali Zaidi and Omar Ayub Khan — both former cabinet members — and went on to describe the country's dismal economic situation, linking it with the no-confidence motion.

He pointed out the persistent decline in the rupee's value over the past week, saying that it had led to a significant increase in Pakistan's external debt.

"Since the day the no-confidence motion was filed, our foreign debt has increased by Rs2,860 billion till date," he claimed. "This is the damage that has been caused."

'Elections only way to end uncertainty'

Earlier, in the press conference, the former minister compared the country's economic situation during the PTI's tenure with the present state of the economy, referring to a National Accounts Committee report issued yesterday that said Pakistan's growth rate had neared six per cent.

He linked the growth to measures taken by the PTI government, saying that a "broad-based recovery was witnessed" during the last government's tenure.

It was in this situation that Imran Khan's government was toppled through a "foreign conspiracy" and the Pakistani nation is still paying its price, Umar added. He termed the move an "attack on Pakistan's stability".

All the economic improvement that was taking was "sabotaged", the PTI leader said.

In a tweet afterwards, Umar quoted Benjamin Franklin and said: "Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."

Speaking about the current economic situation, he said "uncertainty surrounding the economy is poisonous" and the only way to improve the prevailing situation is to go for elections.

"There are two ways to address the uncertainty: one that leads to betterment and the other that we are hearing about," Umar said, reiterating that the path leading to betterment is that of elections.

"There is consensus across Pakistan that elections should be held," he said.

Then there is the other path that is "being recommended", he continued. In this connection, Umar said without naming anyone that "it is being said they will use force and see how Imran Khan comes out [for his march on Islamabad]. [It is being said] that they will see who comes out".

Listen carefully, Umar said without addressing anyone in particular, the PTI's ongoing "struggle" is not that of Imran's or the party's alone. "This nation has decided that it will not accept slavery. If someone believes that they can suppress this decision through force, violence and the use of weapons, then it is their misconception."

"And we have seen such misconceptions in the past as well," he said, as he went on to recall the incident of veteran Baloch nationalist leader and former chief minister of Balochistan, Akbar Bugti.

Bugti was killed, along with 37 armed tribals, in a military operation in the Chalgri area of Bhamboor hills of Balochistan's Dera Bugti district.

"You might still remember the day when it was announced that Akbar Bugti was killed — and killed in such a manner that he didn't even realise from where he had been attacked," Umar recalled. "It has been 15 years since then, and still [they] are unable to handle Balochistan."

Asked whether he was referring to the army here, he replied: "The Pakistan Army is an institution under the government and I am addressing the government. Whichever institution is listening, it is up to them."

He went on to say that "those in power and the government" usually have such misconceptions about the use of force.

"Similar suggestions were made to Imran Khan. When Nawaz Sharif made a call for Gujranwala and when Fazlur Rehman set out for Islamabad, suggestions were made to Imran Khan not to let them come out," Umar said. "But Imran Khan's reply had always been to let them come [out] and that what was there to worry about. He used to say that it was their constitutional right. The people will decide."

Coming back to the present, Umar said the people have to decide. "No matter how many raids you carry out at [Haleem Adil Sheikh's] house, these people will not sit at home now."

The PTI leader further said that his party had stood up for a cause and not political reasons.

He then addressed "those who make decisions", telling them that "history does not forgive".

"If we try to go that way, if you make this mistake, the damage caused to Pakistan — and I am not saying this in happiness or as a threat — the damage that you will cause," he left the sentence incomplete and added: "Little time is left ... it is time to make decisions. If you will not make decisions [now], Pakistan's history will not forgive you."

'Azadi' march date

When asked about the PTI's planned "Azadi" march on Islamabad, Umar said it is likely to be held between May 20 and May 30, but only Imran Khan will decide the final date. "Only Imran Khan will decide the date and only he knows when he will announce it."

He said preparations had been made to bring people from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Gilgit-Baltistan, Azad Jammu and Kashmir, and Punjab. People would also come from Sindh and Balochistan, he said, adding that however since these provinces are comparatively distant, the plan is to give a call to people to hold rallies in big cities there while the power show in the capital will be under way.

Umar also rejected reports that the PTI had prepared women and children to resist any possible arrests at the march.

However, he added that "we have increased Imran's security" in light of reports of threats to his life.

Umar also criticised the government for not taking sufficient measures for Imran's security, stressing that it was its responsibility.

"They have taken the responsibility of providing security to a convict but said the responsibility of the security of Pakistan's former — and future prime minister is ours," he said. "We have taken security measures, but it is entirely the government's responsibility."

He added that he believed the government also realised this, warning that if any harm was caused to Imran or he was arrested, not even PTI leaders would be able to control the situation.

When asked whether he had any message for Finance Minister Miftah Ismail, Umar said his message is for Miftah's "boss to have some mercy" on the finance minister. He went on to say that Miftah cannot improve the economy and the situation cannot improve while an "imported government is in power".

To a question about whether anyone has tried to mediate for talks between the PTI and government, Umar replied: "These are political decisions and should be taken by politicians."

In response to another question, Umar said the PTI does not trust the Election Commission of Pakistan and if elections are to be held, they have to be transparent and fair.

Later, PTI leader Ali Zaidi said, while speaking about the Supreme Court's verdict on the presidential reference filed for the interpretation of Article 63-A, that had it been issued "on that day at midnight, things would have been better at present".

"But they must have their reasons," he added.

Omar Ayub also berated the government, saying that its mismanagement had led to an increase in power cuts.

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