PM Imran Khan announces reducing petrol, and diesel prices by Rs10. PM stresses the need for independent foreign policy. He defends PECA law; says not afraid of media criticism.
Prime Minister Imran Khan Monday announced a host of economic relief measures and stressed an independent foreign policy amid the ongoing Ukraine-Russia crisis. In his address to the nation, the prime minister said the government was reducing the petrol, diesel, and electricity prices, while it would not be increased till the next budget, which will be announced in June.
The prime minister said that the government had decided to reduce petrol and diesel prices by Rs10 and the electricity tariff will drop by Rs5. “The price of these commodities will not rise till the next budget.”
He said the government was working on building 10 dams that would help save Pakistan from global price fluctuation as power would be generated through the hydel system in future.
PM Imran Khan said the government has also decided to increase the Ehsaas programme’s cash handouts from Rs12,000 to Rs14,000 and added that jobless graduates would be awarded internships and a stipend of Rs30,000 — but did not specify the mechanism.
The premier announced a complete tax exemption for the IT sector — companies and freelancers — adding that no foreign exchange restriction will be imposed on them. Moreover, IT startups will no longer have to pay capital gains tax.
Talking about industries, PM Imran Khan said people seeking to install industries or invest in the country would not be “asked any questions,” and a package would be announced later. He also said overseas Pakistanis eyeing to invest in local industries will be given a five-year tax exemption.
Moreover, 26,000 scholarships — costing Rs38 billion — will be given to students, he said.
Independent foreign policy
At the outset of his speech, PM Imran Khan said since he began politics, he wanted a sovereign policy for Pakistan, which was not dependent on any other state and was solely for the country’s benefit. biting an example of a foreign policy that is dependent on other countries’ interests, he noted Pakistan supported the United States in its “War on Terror” which resulted in several casualties on home soil.
“I was against this war since day one. No Pakistani was involved in the 9/11 attacks,” the prime minister said, noting that when Pakistan partook in the Afghan war earlier, it was termed as “jihad”, but when the US invaded Afghanistan, Washington said it was going into Kabul to defeat terrorism.
PM Imran Khan said Pakistan suffered heavy losses in terms of human lives and capital. “As many as 80,000 Pakistanis were martyred, 3.5 million people were displaced, and the country suffered losses worth $150 billion.”
The premier slammed the US for bombing Pakistan despite Islamabad being a US ally in the War on Terror. He said that dictators were known for succumbing to foreign pressure to gain acceptability. But during former dictator General Pervez Musharraf’s rule, only 10 drone attacks took place in Pakitan, while during PPP and PML-N’s tenure, a total of 400 attacks took place, he said.
“Shouldn’t democratic have stood up for people?” he asked, adding that former president Asif Ali Zardari had said he did not care for the collateral damage caused by the drone attacks.
PECA laws and the government’s aims
Moving towards the Prevention of Electronic Crimes (PECA) law, the prime minister said it was enacted in 2016, and the incumbent government had only made amendments to it. “Ahead of state who has not been involved in any type of corruption is not scared of the media,” the prime minister said, turning down notions that the government was attempting to muzzle the media.
The prime minister said a “majority” of news stories being published and aired in the mainstream media were anti-government, adding that the government aimed at tackling social media through PECA. He said some journalists resorted to mudslinging when it came to the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Hospital, accusing that the funds raised by the hospital were used to fund the PTI.
“There are journalists who accept a bribe and publish filth [against the government],” he stressed, claiming that the type of news stories published in Pakistani media cannot be “reported in any other democracy of the world”.
Good journalism is an asset for society and only criticism helps governments improve, but resorting to mudslinging and saying filthy things about women should be stopped, he added.
Inflation and economy
Regarding Pakistan’s economy, he said that when the PTI government came into power, it inherited an economy with the biggest current account deficit in the country’s history. He said the government had to face the “toughest” economic situation to rectify the economy and to top it all off, it also had to deal with the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
He said that inflation in the country is because of a hike in international prices, adding that since Pakistan is not isolated from the global economy, it too had to bear the impact of inflation. He also cited the example of the US, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Turkey, saying that all of these countries were also facing “historic” inflation in decades.
Quoting The Economist magazine, the premier said that during the last three years when the entire world was battling the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, Pakistan was ranked among the top three countries that smoothly sailed through the COVID-19 challenge in terms of economy.
“Even the World Bank praised our policies of smart lock-downs,” the prime minister said. Addressing the allegations regarding historic high inflation, the premier shared a breakdown of inflation during the previous government’s tenure comparing the rates during the PTI-led government.
He said that during the four years of PTI the inflation cumulative inflation rate stands at 8.5%.
During PPP’s first tenure (1971-77), overall inflation soared at a rate of 13.97% in the seven-year period. Meanwhile, in their second tenure (1988-89), the country witnessed 8.34% inflation in the two years the party ruled. The premier further shared that from 1994-96, the inflation in the county clocked in at 11.69%; while during PPP’s fourth tenure (2008-12) inflation rate was recorded at 13.69%.
PM Imran Khan said that during Nawaz Sharif-led PML-N’s first tenure (1990-93), the inflation rate stood at 10.08% in the four years. During its second year (1997-99) and in the third year (2013-17), the inflation rate stood at 7.25% and 5.05%, respectively.
The prime minister said the incumbent government was praised by from World Bank (WB), World Economic Forum (WEF), and the World Health Organisation (WHO). “If our government was so inept — as dubbed by the Opposition — then why would world institutions praise us. Even Bill Gates, when he came to Pakistan, also applauded the government,” he said.
He said the WB had termed Ehsaas Programme among the top four programmes across the globe that worked for providing relief to the people. The prime minister said Pakistan recorded a historic tax recovery during the previous fiscal year, which was also a 31% increase in the tax collection.
“During the pandemic, no other country could have imagined breaking tax collection targets like we did, as we recovered more than 6,000 billion worth of taxes.” He said his recent visits to China and Russia will have a far-reaching impact on the country’s economy. The prime minister said we are going to import two million tons of wheat and gas from Russia.