WASHINGTON: Federal Minister Planning and Development Ahsan Iqbal highlighted the current government’s plan for boosting the national economy and rebuilding the relationship with the United States at a Sunday night dinner in Washington — hours after PTI trounced the ruling coalition in the Punjab by-elections.

He repeated some of these points in the briefing he gave to the US media on Monday, telling Americans that “a strong partnership with Pakistan serves the interests of both nations.”

The minister presented a four-point plan for revitalising the economy: increasing exports, encouraging foreign investment, improving the tax-to-GDP ratio, and dealing with the loss-making, government-owned industries.

His plan for improving ties with the US involves the Pakistani-American community in a way that would require the government to win their trust. He emphasised this point at the embassy as well as at gatherings in New York, Washington and at a doctors’ convention in Atlantic City.

What he did not say — or at least the press release issued by the embassy did not elaborate — is how a government which, at best, has only a year left, can achieve these major goals? And how will it win over a community whose sympathy lies with its rival?

At the convention in Atlantic City, the community made it obvious who it sympathises with as they made no attempt to hide their preference for Imran Khan.

The slogans they chanted condemned the alleged corruption of the present rulers. They also condemned the unceremonious departure of the PTI govt. Some deman­ded immediate elections while the majority also criticised the present government for rescinding the right to vote for overseas Pakistanis, granted by their predecessors.

The meeting turned into a shouting-match and the organisers had to remind the crowd — again and again — that “you are educated physicians,” not an unruly crowd.

The minister handled it well. He reminded the audience that “millions of Pakistanis vote for each of the three major parties, PML-N, PTI and PPP. So, none of these should be labeled as traitors.”

Appealing for tolerance, Ahsan Iqbal said that “differing from the views of any leader, Nawaz Sharif, Asif Zardari or Imran Khan, is neither treason nor blasphemy.”

At one point, however, he got a little upset and told the audience “the crowd in my village behaves better.” One of the doctors, however, claimed that the crowd in Pakistani “villages have been subdued while those in America have the freedom to express their views.”

Published in Dawn, July 19th, 2022

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