Islamabad - In his first interaction with media since taking oath, Prime Minister Imran Khan looked relaxed and candid as he took head on a tornado of questions and accusations hurled at him by a group of senior journalists.
The first question came from Aamir Mateen, referring to the jerky start of the government marred with frequent controversies in the media. He asked casually, “Were you not ready?” The Prime Minister tilted his head back a bit, but quickly added, “of course we were ready, we had handed out our hundred day plan but for certain things you can never be ready enough.” Later addressing another similar concern, he said, “If you compare our preparation to that of 2013, when we formed government in KP, it was much better this time. It took us a hundred days only to understand many things back then,” he answered honestly.
In the initial half an hour of the meeting, the Prime Minister had to face fast and furious criticism from all the media present regarding Supreme Court’s suo moto notice of Pakpattan DPO’s transfer which was allegedly spurred by involvement of the first lady’s family. “Isn’t it alarming for you that in the first twelve days, there has been a suo moto against your government,” asked a journalist. “On the contrary, I am relieved and pleased that the Supreme Court has taken action regarding Pakpattan controversy,” said the Prime Minister. “There are always two sides of the stories; in this case the second side of story has gone unheard.” According to the Prime Minister, Bushra Bibi, the first lady, never made any direct interference in the matter, while her family members were being consistently harassed by the police and this was the third event in a series of events. “I asked my Principal Secretary to inquire into the matter, and that’s it,” said the Prime Minister. At this point, journalist Rauf Klasra gave an emotional speech with stark reminders of the Prime Minsiter’s past speeches and conduct, where he had always negated interference from political authorities in institutions. “The first time people noticed Imran Khan is a man of difference was when Majid Khan was not taken in the team by you, you taught Pakistan family ties mean nothing to you and merit and system is the prime concern, we saw you over the years taking action against your own family members and close friends on merit, can you see the discrepancies in this matter?”
The Prime Minister listened patiently as silence fell in the room, and in response did an equally passionate speech saying, “Rauf, and everyone present in the room, do you not know that in my whole life I have never made one phone call of reference at Shaukat Khanum, never interfered. Two hundred people apply at Shaukat Khanum everyday, but we can’t take more than fifteen and the selection is always on merit, in a place where saying no means almost giving death warrant to others, yet I never succumbed to any pressure. In the last five years, I never made one call in KP regarding anything, never even asked for a class four induction ever anywhere, I am a politician with a lot of pressures from everywhere yet I always followed the system in a world where no system was followed by the mighty, how can you think I will ever interfere in anyone’s work?” A snide remark came, asking why Khawar Manika being stopped and searched should create concern anyway? I also pointed out, “Will that prime minister make a similar call if this had happened to a common person and not his own family?” Fawad Chaudry, the information minister was quick to add, “But of course he would”. I told the Prime minister once I faced misconduct by Punjab police too and reported it on my channel and hence an inquiry was called which resulted in dismissal of the officer for six months along with a behavior course recommendation. “However here it seems that the DPO was removed without an inquiry in the middle of the night,” I added. The Prime Minister looked thoughtful as he said in convincing tone, “If anyone is alleging that prime minister abused his power, I assure you it did not happen”.
The Prime minister said three major issues were focus for his government. The debt crisis for which his finance team was working, the energy crisis which was mishandled by the last government as a circular debt of 1,200 billion rupees is looming overhead and thirdly to reinforce his austerity drive.
The Prime Minister was candid about his helicopter use. “Look, the maintenance charges and pilot fees are already being paid for these helicopters whether I use it or not, it takes only four minutes to go to Banigala in this helicopter, if I won’t use it, they will give a test drive to helicopter anyway. I have been told by ISI that many assassination attempts are being made against me, if I had no security threats I had no issue living in Banigala and travelling to and from my office.” Prime Minister Imran Khan laid out the plan of his government and the top priority remains a debt free Pakistan.
“Ultimately, everything is related to economy, even foreign policy.” His vision on foreign policy remains the same as he had laid out in his victory speech. “Peace in Afghanistan is imperative, a window has emerged in recent times for that and we must hope for the best.” Prime Minister mentioned he is well aware of the powerful proxy wars and external interference in Balochistan. In an answer to a question he said Navjot Singh Sidhu being a great orator proved to be a wonderful ambassador for Pakistan. “We have sent a message of friendship to India but we will never compromise on our national interest”.
About his eight hours meeting at GHQ, he was positively confident. “I have said this before and I will reinforce by opinion, this Army Chief is the most democratic Army Chief”, the Prime minister said that the hyped up propaganda against the Army that it was not letting the past government work was only a myth and excuse for their own shortcomings.
As for accountability, he was clear, “Just wait, everyone’s turn will come”, and accountability will be across the board.
Some interesting incidents happened during this long meeting. Twice the military secretary advised the Prime Minister to take an important diplomatic call but a vibrant Prime Minister told the MS to reschedule the call with the French President for a later time. Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi shifted in his seat uneasily as this was done. Another incident was when a very unhappy journalist almost walked out saying he was unhappy about the Prime Minister’s selection of bureaucrats. A patient Prime Minister then requested everyone to give three months to his government.
Civil-military rift was myth created by past govt: PM