Imran talks about likely early polls, reshuffle in cabinet, Trump request for a role in Afg peace

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ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan has talked about early elections, likely reshuffle in the federal cabinet and United States President Donald Trump’s letter seeking Pakistan’s help in Afghanistan peace process during his first interview to the local media after assuming the office in August.

The prime minister also discussed bilateral ties with India and controversies surrounding his first three months at the country’s top office while interacting with a select group of journalists and senior anchor persons.

Hinting at possible changes in the federal cabinet in the next 10 days, PM Imran interestingly said that early elections in the country cannot be ruled out. He said he had never been involved in nepotism and regretted criticism aimed at appointment of his friend Zulfi Bukhari as his advisor on overseas Pakistanis.

The premier also said that he only came to know about the sudden increase in dollar’s value through television, adding that the State Bank took the decision without taking the government into confidence.

“We are working to introduce a uniform education and health system, which will provide equal opportunities to all,” he remarked, adding that the government will introduce health cards throughout the country, as well as a legal aid service to bring professional legal help within the reach of the masses.

In response to a question regarding his famous statement on ‘chicken and egg economy model’, the prime minister said the actual poverty is in rural areas of the country, “that’s why we need to empower rural people. Halal food industry, for instance, should be exploited at its optimum.”

To a question pertaining to his recent statement on dollar’s recent hike against the rupee, wherein he had advised the nation to not worry, PM Imran said the currency decline was a temporary phenomenon, and that the country’s economic indicators stayed positive.

“Pakistan’s exports are going to improve further. The single most important thing is investment and Pakistan is progressing towards that goal as per plan,” he added.

On the performance of the federal ministers, the premier said he had received performance reports from the federal cabinet, especially on the cost-cutting measures they have taken. “The government will act on these reports … and it might sack some of the ministers,” he remarked.

“We studied models of Singapore and Malaysia as they ran the state entities in the best way possible … we will do the same,” said the prime minister while commenting on the country’s economy.

Pakistan, PM Imran added, will definitely witness stability in the days to come.
The premier admitted that almost every state institution was witnessing difficulties, but blamed the former governments for the circumstances. He reiterated that the government will not interfere in or influence any national institutions.

On questions related to misuse of power by state ministers, PM Imran Khan said not a single example can be shown wherein he had interfered in the matters of the state.

He lamented that the chief justice referred to ‘nepotism’ in Zulfi Bukhari’s appointment as advisor to PM on overseas Pakistanis.

PM Imran had appointed his close aide Zulfiqar Hussain Bukhari, as his special assistant in September. Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar had remarked during a hearing that, “such issues should be run as per the national interests and not on the basis of friendships.”

“If Azam Swati found culpable he will step down from his post,” said the premier while commenting on a sub-judice case in the Supreme Court.

“Some corrupt bureaucrats, who were part of the status quo, have been attempting to sabotage the system, so they could make illegal money again,” he commented on his government’s clashes with a number of high-level officials.

On the ongoing encroachment drive, the premier said he had explicitly directed the authorities to only go after ‘mafias’, and make sure that houses of poor citizens are not destroyed.

The prime minister said the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) was an autonomous body and the government had no say in its affairs in any way. “My political opponents have been after us since day one as they fear that their massive corruption will be unmasked,” he remarked.

PM Imran also vowed to rid the nation of corrupt bureaucracy and added that bank account details have been acquired with assistance from the foreign countries.

The PTI-led government is not facing any issues as far as the civil-military relations are concerned, said the premier.

“We will not grant any national reconciliation order (NRO) to anyone,” PM Imran said. “The country was looted in the past in the name of the Charter of Democracy.”

The armed forces of the country are standing by the manifesto of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), said the premier expressing confidence over cooperation among different state institutions.

To a question, the premier said, “There’s isn’t a single decision that I haven’t taken on my own, and there’s not a single decision that doesn’t have the support of the army.”

The opening of Kartarpur corridor was a significant decision of the government to defuse tensions with India and open new doors of bilateral relations with the neighbouring country.
Commenting on Pakistan’s foreign policy, PM Imran said, “We want to mediate between Iran and Saudi Arabia to end the war in Yemen.” He reiterated that Pakistan will play its role to end the Afghanistan war.

“I will only go for foreign trips if they help Pakistan in anyway,” he remarked.
Commenting on another hit statement on taking U-turns, he said, “I have never denied taking U-turns and I repeat it is a sign of a great leader … a good leader can always change his strategy at any time … sometimes you need to backtrack as a strategy to reach your goal.”

On a question pertaining to crackdown on Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), PM Imran said, “We tried our best to hold talks with TLP leadership and deal with the situation peacefully but to no avail.” No country in the world would allow anarchy and chaos which followed the acquittal of Aasia Bibi, he added.

PM Imran said he intends to turn the PM House into a post-graduate university.
He refrained from responding when asked if PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari is going to jail, saying he wanted to give all ‘thieves’ as little time as possible.

The prime minister said he will look into the performance of federal ministers and then take a decision on cabinet reshuffle in the next 10 days.

Prime Minister Imran Khan has time and again expressed his fondness of Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar. In a special interview on PTV, Khan once again defended his appointment.

The interview was aired on Monday.
“Usman Buzdar is the chief executive of a province. If he gets a complaint that someone’s daughter was troubled by the police, then does he not have the right to call the police officer and ask him about it?”

The controversy arose after Pakpattan DPO Rizwan Gondal was transferred reportedly at the behest of Khawar Maneka, first lady Bushra Bibi’s ex-husband. On October 8, the Supreme Court wrapped up the case after accepting Buzdar’s apology.

“Chief justice has done amazing work but I have some reservations against him,” Khan said. “In the Zulfi Bukhari case, it was said that I was engaged in nepotism. I was quite sad to hear that. Let me tell you that I have never interfered in any institution.”
He remarked, “We will not interfere to save anyone.”

On Azam Swati case, Khan remarked that the top court has formed a joint investigation team to probe the incident. Action will be taken according to the findings of the team. “Azam Swati will resign if he is proved of any wrongdoing,” the prime minister said. “We may change some ministers too.”

On the first 100 days of the government, he said that gives you a clear direction. “I want the system to change from elitism to one that caters to the marginalised.”

We have formed a high-powered committee to make the syllabus uniform, he remarked. A legal aid authority will work towards helping those in need to financial help.

The Federal Board of Revenue will only focus on collection, while commerce and finance will make the policy. There has been deindustrialisation in Pakistan, he remarked. “We want to attract investment.” We are focusing on bringing in more dollars into the country. “How will they come? We have to increase our exports, remittances and bring in more investment,” the premier remarked.

The bureaucrats who will become an impediment in way of progress will be dealt with accordingly, he remarked.