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ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan Wednesday said that after facing various economic challenges, Pakistan's economy was now stable and moving in the right direction and getting stronger with the passage of time.
The prime minister said he was convinced that US President-elect Joe Biden would not reverse the Afghan peace process, being the greatest achievement of President Trump, who did a great job in this connection.
Addressing the Pakistan Strategy Dialogue under the auspices of the World Economic Forum (WEF), Imran Khan said Pakistan is concerned about the increase in coronavirus cases, but it cannot afford a lockdown in businesses and factories.
The prime minister said, “We are taking steps to ensure that the economy is not affected. Unlike the lockdown, we have banned unnecessary public gatherings and identified areas affected by corona and introduced smart lockdown.” He prayed that the corona situation did not reach a level, where they could be compelled to take steps, which would affect the economy.
The prime minister noted that these days, corona cases are rapidly increasing, but taking lessons from the first wave, the government has taken a policy decision that the businesses and factories, which also provided employment, would not be shut as the lockdown of such areas would be of far greater consequences for the economy than the virus impact on the people.
Imran Khan said Pakistan had stabilised its economy and was heading in the right direction when COVID-19 hit, and the government quickly realised that it could not impose a lockdown like the one imposed in Europe or China because of the impact of completely shutting down the country would have on daily wagers and labourers. Instead, he said, the government opted for ‘smart lockdowns’ targeting virus hotspots because one can’t lock down hungry people: The strategy worked and the government was able to reopen the economy quicker than other countries, while the move to give cash handouts to 15 million families really saved Pakistan from the worst effects of the lockdown.
“Now, of course, we are hitting a second peak and my worry right now is that we succeeded so well, people are no longer that worried about the virus anymore and so we do not find that sort of level of compliance,” he pointed out.
He said his second concern was over the uncertainty of what the winter wave of COVID-19 would be like and how long it would last. He added, “There’s a bit of worry right now because our cases are climbing up quite rapidly these days”.
About the measures taken by his government in the field of economy, the prime minister said that when his government came, there was a gap of 40 billion dollars between imports and exports, but after 17 years, Pakistan's current account deficit went into plus a few month back.
The government, he pointed out, also had a climb down on money laundering, being a major problem in the developing countries, and this also contributed to dealing with the current account deficit, which was reflected on the economic stability. He noted that Pakistan currency was now market exchange based. He added that the currency had also gained in recent months.
“Foreign investment in Pakistan is improving. After gaining stability, we are now moving in a positive direction and Pakistan is fortunate where the business community has confidence in us as well as the stock market,” the prime minister said, adding that cement sales were the highest in Pakistan’s history, which meant the construction was moving forward and so was the textile industry, which was short of labour, as it was running full.
Pakistan's top priority, he explained, was that it wanted to provide affordable energy to industries, was focusing on agricultural development and improving governance and Pakistan wanted farmers to get more value of their crop.
Imran Khan said that Pakistan wanted investors to have facilities here and get profit. He said Pakistan would welcome investment in automobile industry, and favoured public private partnership.
Regarding the Afghan peace process, he said that Pakistan played a huge part in getting the US and the Taliban sit on the negotiating table, and played its part in the intra-Afghan peace process. He hoped that peace would come to Afghanistan, which would also benefit the surrounding areas and the tribal people living along adjoining areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan border. He noted that the recent surge in violence was a matter of concern though. He emphasised that peace in Afghanistan was the key to people of Afghanistan and then to Pakistanis and peace would enable Pakistan to reach up to Central Asia with immense untapped resources. He reiterated that from day one, he had been advocating for dialogue to resolve the Afghan problem while the 19 years of conflict had borne no result.
The prime minister said that Pakistan China Economic Corridor (CPEC) was not exclusive just to China, though initially it was about connectivity and power generation but any country could be part of it while in the second phase special economic zones also were being developed. He emphasised that his government was removing impediments and red tape to make it easier for investors to make profit in Pakistan and that the Pakistan of 2020 was all about creating wealth through industrialisation.
Meanwhile, addressing a media briefing in Lahore, Imran Khan appealed to people to act responsibly and wear masks amid the second coronavirus wave, as it is the "easiest precaution one can take".
According to Geo News, the prime minister expressed concern that the daily death toll has now hit 50 from single digit figures just two weeks ago. He said that Pakistan will, however, avoid closing down factories and businesses, as people's livelihoods are linked to these.
"While safeguarding against corona, we cannot allow our people to die of hunger. Our economy has recovered after such hard work, we cannot stop its smooth functioning at this juncture," the prime minister said.
The premier said that Pakistan "successfully fought off" the virus in the first wave and urged people to demonstrate the same willingness to follow safety measures "as they had in the early months of the outbreak".
Responding to a query about whether the government will allow the opposition to continue to hold public rallies, he said that no such activity must take place which causes coronavirus to spread rapidly.
"We must never allow any such activities which cause people to gather. We know that when people have close contact, the virus spreads at a very fast rate. It is why I had appealed to people before as well [...] we had put off our own rally. And I had said that until the situation is brought under control, until the curve of infections is brought down, no rallies will take place," said the prime minister.
Imran Khan reminded everyone that an Islamabad High Court order is also in effect which prohibits large gatherings from being held. "These people are endangering the lives of people," he said.
"These rallies are of absolutely no use at all. They will not get an NRO," vowed the premier, adding that this is why the government will "never allow any rallies". Imran Khan said that there are two projects which are "very important for Pakistan", namely the Ravi River project in Lahore and the Bundal Island project in Karachi.
He said the Bundal Island project will save the mangroves and water treatment plants will be installed to clean polluted water so fishermen don't have to go deep into the waters in search of fish.
Speaking on Lahore, he said: "In Lahore, the water supply is dwindling. In the last 20 years, Lahore has grown 1.5 times. And 70 percent of the city's green cover has been depleted in this time which has led to increased pollution."
He said the trouble arises when there is unplanned development. "No one sees where the sewerage is going in the winter months the river is nothing but stream of sewerage," he said.
PM Imran Khan said that the projects will focus on vertical expansion, as is done elsewhere in the world, so green areas can be protected — versus being demolished for expansion — and the threat to food security is addressed effectively.
Imran Khan the greatest contribution the two projects will have is growth in foreign exchange and creation of jobs.
The prime minister said now the members of land mafia will be arrested. He said time has come for making those politicians and other influential people accountable who have usurped lands of people worth billions of rupees.
Speaking of Pakistan's foreign policy, the prime minister said that it is the government's "biggest success".
"It is only because of our government's international lobbying efforts and exposing India for what it is doing in Kashmir [...] ask anyone, any diplomats, they will tell you whether we had this standing 50 years ago," he said.
The prime minister also said that Afghanistan used to consider Pakistan its opponent and was closer to India and the United States would believe we are playing some sort of a "double game".
"Today, Pakistan is seen as the country that is bringing peace to Afghanistan," he said, adding: "No one is asking us to 'do more' any longer, whereas in the past we were being blamed for other people's wars and their failures."
PM Imran Khan today Pakistan has friendly relations with Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and UAE. "We are under no pressure to recognise Israel," he said.
Meanwhile, in his tweets, Imran Khan said that the Faisalabad textile industry had seen a massive rise in demand and export orders, being one of a number of positive developments in Pakistan’s economy despite COVID-19.
“The textile sector is one of a number of positive developments in our economy despite COVID 19,” he noted. Meanwhile, Punjab Chief Minister Sardar Usman Buzdar called on Imran Khan.
During the meeting, the prime minister was briefed on administrative matters, COVID-19 situation and provincial development projects, said a PM Office.