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September 3, 2018

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‘Pakistan differs with US on Indian role in Afghanistan’


ISLAMABAD: Minister for Information and Broadcasting Fawad Chaudhry has said that both Prime Minister Imran Khan and Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa are on the same page with regard to the internal and external security paradigm.

“The kind of optics given during the eight-hour briefing to the prime minister the other day was never experienced before. The meeting was held where the corps commanders meet, whereas previously this was done at the Director General Military Operations (DGMO) office. Unlike the past, this meeting was chaired exclusively by the prime minister,” he pointed out.

In an interview with The News, Fawad Chaudhry noted that the meeting on security was a manifestation of the fact that the civilian government and the military were on one page. Fawad said the military top brass and the prime minister had detailed deliberations on the security paradigm and how to move forward during the next four-five years. In a lighter mood, he replied to a question that the food served at the meeting also reflected austerity.

The minister explained that the prime minister endorsed the army chief that the 'right to carry the gun' should be with the state and not with any banned outfit or private force, and those who would not adhere to this, would face elimination, and no outfit, even the one which might have sided with the government, would not be allowed to resort to violence or carry the gun.

“The meeting emphasised that the state just could not afford privatisation of this very right, but those elements willing to be part of the mainstream will be encouraged to surrender to the writ of the state,” he said.

Fawad said it was most important that the army chief assured full support to the government in the fight against terrorism and extremism, now to be fought and the National Action Plan (NAP) being implemented in the urban areas. Fawad said the army chief said that they had already executed their part of the plan. However, Fawad said Imran’s opinion would be supported by all that the grave challenges, facing Pakistan, could not be tackled without the military’s support.

It was emphasised that the police and the other civilian law-enforcement agencies needed capacity building to carry out their share of the campaign against extremism and militancy in cities and towns. “Things will now move forward with the civilian ownership,” he quoted the army chief as saying in the meeting.

Fawad said Imran Khan mentioned that the reformed Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Police had valiantly fought out the menace of terrorism and militancy, but a lasting solution to these challenges was possible only by improving the police force in the other provinces too.

About the relations with regional countries in future vis-à-vis the security paradigm, Fawad said the army chief had twice visited Kabul and the real issue there was that the US establishment was divided into two opinions: one was that they should quit Afghanistan while the other was that they should not leave in the given situation. “A stable Afghanistan is in Pakistan’s interests, as the nation has already suffered a lot,” he said.

The meeting, he said, also touched upon the US plan to give a role to India in Afghanistan, whereas Pakistan’s stance was quite clear that India had no role to play in Afghanistan, and Islamabad wanted good relations with all the regional countries. The army chief said that not a country alone, but regions need to make progress and with that spirit, we wanted relations with our neighbours and regional countries and ensure our access to the Central Asian States. The minister said Pakistan enjoyed deep-rooted relations with Saudi Arabia and was strengthening the friendship with Russia, while China was Pakistan’s time-tested friend and Iran was a neighbouring country, and added there would be support on issue-to-issue basis, with utmost priority to Pakistan’s interests.

Fawad said the reason of differences with the US was its plan to give a role to India in Afghanistan while Islamabad and Washington were in agreement that the US should leave a stable Afghanistan.

To a question about the friendship with India, the minister maintained that peace was imperative to eliminate poverty both in Pakistan and India and noted that there were two kinds of thinking in India as well; one was extremist, wanting to make Pakistan weak, while other wished to peacefully co-exist with Pakistan.

The minister believed that with elections due next year in India, the leadership there might not be inclined to respond positively to Pakistan’s desire of talks to resolve issues, as already before the elections, Narendra Modi had got votes for his anti-Pakistan stance for India’s internal politics was quite complicated. He, however, said one headway was that the entry point at Narowal on Pak-India border was being opened.

He revealed that a white-paper on power loadshedding and corruption would shortly be released before the media, as the claims of the previous government to have ended load-shedding were unfounded and untrue.

“Was it electricity or biryani, as if they had generated electricity and then took away with them putting it in a shopping bag. New power plants were installed with loans from China under fake companies for corruption and costly electricity was being generated,” he maintained.

The minister insisted that the incumbent government had no money in its kitty to afford so costly electricity from these plants. When he was reminded of Imran’s repeated statements that they would smash the begging bowl and desist from begging from anyone, Fawad explained at the moment, there was no decision on going to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a bailout package, though massive debt liabilities were around. “All options will be explored,” he emphasised. He also pointed out that the PML-N government left Rs1,100 billion circular debt as well, while Rs1,200 billion payments had to be made every month.

The minister said a presentation would be given to the prime minister on a new local government system, with a proposal of making tehsil the basic administrative unit (BAU) and its mayor would be directly elected, whereas in Balochistan, a village could be BAU, as population was massively scattered in the province.

The Article 140-A of the Constitution, he maintained, made it mandatory on the provinces to form the local government systems. “If there are dictators in Pakistan presently; they are the chief ministers. They spend so much and yet there is no concept of audit or accountability. The provinces should go for audit,” he said.

Fawad regretted that the media was in general busy in non-issues, whereas this new government had taken some key fundamental measures, like the prime minister doing away with his discretionary funds, while till 2017, ex-PM Nawaz Sharif had spent Rs21 billion on various funds, using his discretion as premier.

When asked as to why a new media regulatory authority was being established, the minister said their problem was that the opposition was not fond of reading and writing and there might be none among them who would have gone through a book on modern style of governance. “They have no idea what exactly is modern media regulation. The government is doing restructuring of governance and if for instance, we take up the media, we have Pemra, the Press Council and PTA and all are supposed to regulate the media,” he noted.

Fawad termed existence of three bodies with separate paraphernalia a sheer wastage of state resources and added that was by merging these three, one body would be set up for which a legal experts committee had been formed to prepare a draft, which would be circulated to APNS, PBA and other media bodies and the opposition would also be reached out for proposals and feedback.

“An effective law will be legislated after consultations keeping in view the modern day needs,” he said. To a question on the government’s much-talked about programme of giving away 10 million jobs and five million houses, he said the prime minister has decided to take briefing twice in a month on progress on the first 100-day programme of the government. He explained that it would not be difficult to achieve the targets, as the GDP growth would be increased to 6.4 per cent while overseas Pakistanis were a precious asset of Pakistan.

He said the prime minister would soon announce a plan for the overseas Pakistanis, who would invest in Pakistan in various projects and they be offered facilities and concessions. Giving his reaction on terror financing and fresh statement of the World Bank thereon, Fawad said the prime minister had informed them that FATF was an opportunity for them to deal also with the menace of money laundering and the related law be reviewed in the context of international law. He said the government was committed to the agreements signed with China under CPEC.

He offered no comment on a recent statement by the JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman that the PPP had in a way helped Imran become the prime minister. About the presidential election, he said it would be a one-sided contest to be won by the PTI candidate Dr Arif Alvi.

On the question of promised relief to the masses, Fawad said Finance Minister Asad Umar was already working on those lines and added that provision of inexpensive and speedy justice was one of their top priorities.

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