Pakistan ‘drowning’ in debt: PM Sharif warns
Pakistan was “drowning” in debt and it was the new government’s job to “sail this ship ashore,” Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said on Wednesday after chairing the first Cabinet meeting since assuming office.
- Shehbaz Sharif chaired the first cabinet meeting since assuming office.
- He said, 34 members Cabinet, a mix of experience & fresh blood.
- Pakistan was ‘drowning’ in debt, he warns.
- He added, New government job to ‘sail this ship ashore’.
Pakistan was “drowning” in debt and it was the new government’s job to “sail this ship ashore,” Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said on Wednesday after chairing the first Cabinet meeting since assuming office. Sharif’s 34-member Cabinet – a mix of experience and fresh blood – was sworn in on Tuesday after several days of delay, with Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani administering the oath to new ministers after President Arif Alvi excused himself from the ceremony.
“This alliance will serve the people despite different political visions of the parties.” He said that the cabinet was a “combination of experience and youth”. Talking about the issues, he said that power shortages and huge debt were among the major issues faced by the country. “The country is drowning in debt but we have to take its boat to the shore,” he said.
In the World Economic Outlook released in Washington, the IMF projected Pakistan’s current account deficit to hit USD 18.5 billion this fiscal year. Previously it had projected a deficit of USD 12.9 billion for FY2022. It estimates that Pakistan requires gross external financing of over USD 35 billion in the current fiscal year on a current account deficit of 5.3 per cent of GDP in FY2022. The IMF also raised its inflation forecasts for Pakistan to 12.7 per cent on average for the current fiscal from the previous projection of 9.4 per cent.
Sharif warned that the opponents were doing a negative campaign against the government, which should be responded to with facts. ‘We need to respond to the toxic propaganda based on facts, not on the basis of lies.’ He also said that corruption was at its peak in the government of Imran Khan which the cabinet should eradicate. He also called for unity among the federating units and especially talked about the impoverished province of Balochistan. ‘We need to focus on all four provinces, especially Balochistan. We need to also tackle problems in other provinces,’ he said.
Sharif exhorted his colleagues that they should take examples of Germany and Japan as they turned their anger into opportunities and rose to become first rank nations. He also said that bureaucracy had stopped working in the previous government when the officers were being coerced to become witnesses and approvers against opposition during the previous government.
Meanwhile, Information minister Marriyum Aurangzeb said the cabinet is being briefed on the economic disaster and unprecedented irresponsible fiscal acts of the last four years under former Prime Minister Imran Khan. She said inflation, poverty, unemployment, debt and deficits rose whilst GDP growth decreased during the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government. She said Khan’s term in office was marred by corruption.
Taking aid for drowning Pakistan from India isn’t treason: Mr Sharif
The Pakistani prime minister has unnecessarily raked up the Kashmir issue especially when millions of his countrymen are affected by floods and is desperate for help
Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has not mellowed over time.
My first, accidental encounter with him, took place several years ago. I was in the premier’s official residence for a formal interview with Nawaz Sharif, the older brother, and the then PM. Shehbaz strode into the room and started butting in with answers. He voiced his strident views on Kashmir, all to the unease of Nawaz, easily the more diplomatic of the two.
No Pakistani prime minister has been allowed to voice a sober view on the bilateral dispute between the two neighbours, but it is dismaying that Shahbaz has chosen to rake it up in the context of the devastating floods that have killed over 1,000 Pakistanis and displaced 30mn.
The hawk speaks
No one expected Shehbaz to work any magic on the India-Pakistan front, but he surprised everyone, including his own finance minister by rejecting “aid” from India at a time when his country was reeling under the impact of a furious natural calamity.
The fact of the matter is that Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted to say that he was “saddened to see the devastation caused by the floods”. Modi did not — not publicly at least — make an offer for humanitarian assistance to Pakistan. It was Miftah Ismail, their finance minister, who said they might import vegetables and other items from India to tide over the crisis.
As many as 72 of 160 administrative districts have been declared disaster zones and while thousands have been rendered homeless, as many, are living without food, water and medicines.
India has provided humanitarian assistance to Pakistan in the past, under the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government. Shehbaz, when questioned by the media about aid from India, virtually took off and flew off the handle.
“There will be no problem of trade with India but there is an alleged genocide going on and the Kashmiri people are not being given their rights. Kashmir was usurped by the abrogation of Article 370,” he said.
Shehbaz did not stop at Kashmir. “I am ready to talk with Prime Minister Modi. We cannot tolerate war. We have to use our resources to end poverty in our respective countries…we should not do politics on this occasion, but it is a fact that the rights of minorities are being curtailed in India,’’ he continued.
His comments reminded me of the day when he tried to hijack an interview that then got pushed to the next day.
Apart from the fact that he has hawkish views on India, Shahbaz is letting the pressure show.
Shadow of Khan
Always overshadowed by older brother Nawaz, Shehbaz’s long-standing dream of becoming the prime minister, finally came true in April this year, but he has been bedraggled from day one. He faces corruption charges and is out on bail. He is also juggling several coalition partners and independents.
Shehbaz succeeded the charismatic and outspoken Imran Khan. The immensely popular cricketer-turned-politician has been breathing down Shehbaz’s neck on a daily basis. A strident Khan, baying for early elections, has demonstrated a politically unnerving ability to draw huge crowds at short notice.
Pakistan has taken and given humanitarian assistance in the past. Manmohan Singh sent aid in 2010 when Pakistan was similarly flooded. Atal Bihari Vajpayee accepted aid from Pakistan after the massive earthquake in Gujarat in 2001.
Leaders on both sides have been able to find the political space for humanitarian gestures despite being bogged down by disputes and domestic considerations. The same, however, is not true for Shehbaz, who launched a diatribe, aimed at his own constituency — over an offer that is not visibly on the table. If it is in the works through the back channel, he has only complicated it for himself through his statements. Late Wednesday night, however, Shehbaz thanked Modi in a tweet saying, “… With their characteristic resilience the people of Pakistan shall, InshaAllah, overcome the adverse effects of this natural calamity & rebuild their lives and communities.”
Shehbaz could take some lessons from Nawaz, who has always spoken firmly in favour of better relations with India. Nawaz, in fact, staked his own prime ministership by accepting Modi’s invitation for a front seat at his swearing-in in 2014. Modi reciprocated by allowing members of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to visit Pathankot after a terror strike at an air force facility.
Nawaz is stuck in London, where he had gone for treatment, but failed to return. But there’s another example closer home. Imran Khan, has more than once, praised India’s foreign policy at public rallies. It doesn’t always have to be an anti-India tirade.
Pakistan is drowning. Taking aid is not an act of treason; nor is it anti-national, Shahbaz Sharif.