Elections to be held ‘on time’ after August 2023: PM

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Says govt came into being through a constitutional process; Bilateral relations with Türkiye exemplary

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has said that the next general elections in the country “will be held on time,” that is after August 2023.

“Let me make it absolutely clear that the next elections will be held on time,” PM Shehbaz told Anadolu Agency in an interview. He was responding to questions about his predecessor and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Chairman Imran Khan’s demand for early elections.

“This government came into being through a constitutional process and enjoys the mandate of the people of Pakistan,” he added.

“The term of the current National Assembly will end in August 2023 to be followed by the establishment of an interim government that will hold elections,” the prime minister explained.

The present coalition government has “representation of all political parties of the country except the PTI and is busy dealing with the issues of great importance.”

PM Shehbaz, who was elected prime minister in April after his predecessor Imran Khan lost a vote of confidence, said Pakistan’s economy “was facing multiple global and domestic challenges” and was “on the verge of financial collapse” when he assumed charge.

“The economic policies of the previous government were not pro-growth and led the economy to multiple challenges,

“Pakistan’s economy was facing excessive monetary tightening, supply-side shocks, lingering pandemic effects, waning investors’ confidence, high inflation, and the effects of the Russia-Ukraine conflict,” he said. However, Shehbaz said his administration had adopted a “mix of policies to tackle the economic downturn by accepting the fact that we have a very short time to step back from the edge of bankruptcy and financial collapse.”

“No doubt, some of our policy options, like the withdrawal of untargeted subsidies, had added to the cost to the economy in the short term. But, most of our policies are more likely to offer benefits in the longer term,” he said.

“This was a matter of policy choices and political will. Although such a tough decision requires huge political capital, we took the risk of taking these decisions by reverting the untargeted subsidies.

“We are also aware of the fact that our current course of action is hurting the most vulnerable and marginalised in society but we are taking care of them by announcing targeted subsidies and other relief measures,” the prime minister said.

The premier said the revival of the IMF programme and “active engagement with bilateral and multilateral partners” had eased the pressure.

To tackle the economy, he noted that his government took measures to reduce the import bill, current account deficit, and pressure on the Pakistani rupee. The “continuous decline in imports” helped improve the current account deficit during the first four months of the 2023 financial year, he added.

PM Shehbaz, however, said the massive floods that hit Pakistan this year “caused a great deal of suffering.” Facing common challenges and emerging threats, Islamabad and Ankara should work together through collective research and pooling of resources, PM Shehbaz said.

“We believe that Pakistan and Türkiye should work together and deepen their partnership through collective research and joint development and pooling of resources,” Shehbaz told Anadolu Agency.

Calling bilateral relations with Türkiye “exemplary,” Sharif said: “These historic relations are grounded firmly in common religious, cultural, and linguistic links and transcend political changes on either side.”

“Pakistan and Türkiye support each other on all issues of core national interests — whether it is Jammu and Kashmir or Northern Cyprus. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Türkiye, particularly its leadership, for its principled support on Jammu and Kashmir dispute,” he said.

He said the two nations also have similar views on regional and international issues, while also enjoying “close collaboration on bilateral, regional, and multilateral forums”.

“Confronted by common challenges and new and emerging threats, Pakistan and Türkiye have deepened their cooperation across various spheres, particularly in defence,” he said, lauding the Turkish defence industry.

“Pakistan is Türkiye’s largest defence customer,” the prime minister underlined, adding that their collaboration on the construction of the MILGEM-class warships, not only has a “unique value” for the Pakistani Navy’s capability enhancements, but also “prominently stands out as a defining moment to further cement the bonds of friendship between our two nations and our two navies.”

Recalling a recent interaction with US President Joe Biden in New York, the PM said there had been “several high-level visits including congressional delegations and by members of the administration”.

“These interactions have yielded positive results and further solidified our ties,” he said, thanking Washington for its $97 million of support for Pakistani flood victims.

Pakistan is also cooperating closely with the US “to promote peace and stability in Afghanistan,” while also pursuing a foreign policy of “friendliness and goodwill towards all countries,” he said.

“Pakistan has traditionally maintained good relations with the United States and China. Historically, it was Pakistan that acted as a bridge in opening up the relationship between the United States and the People’s Republic of China,” he noted. “While the Pakistan-China relationship is very special, Pakistan and the US have also maintained a longstanding historic bilateral relationship, which is broad-based in nature and covers all issues of mutual interest.

“We believe that constructive engagement with all countries can promote peace and security, as well as development and connectivity in the whole region. We look forward to remaining engaged with the international community for peace and stability in the region and beyond,” the premier said.

The PM said Pakistan “strongly believes that inter-state relations should be based on mutual respect and peaceful resolution of issues by upholding of principles of UN charter and international law”.

On relations with China, PM Shehbaz said his recent meetings with the Chinese leadership “injected new impetus in our joint efforts to ensure timely progress and implementation of major projects”.

“Important understandings were reached on advancing flagship projects such as the Main Line I and Karachi Circular Railway (ML-I/KCR) projects, as well as on the early implementation of the Framework Agreement on Industrial Cooperation.

“We also agreed to step up cooperation in green energy, science and technology, and agriculture, which are all important building blocks of CPEC’s (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor) high-quality development,” he said.

The premier underscored that Pakistan always “accorded high priority to the security and safety of our international partners in development”.

“We have enhanced measures to maintain a safe and secure environment, which remains essential for investment and socioeconomic development.

“Both Pakistan and China are mindful of the complex regional environment and the risks it poses. We will continue to exercise heightened vigilance and ensure that our detractors’ nefarious designs will fail,” Sharif added.

On whether resolving the dispute over the Kashmir region remains a condition for resuming normal ties between Islamabad and New Delhi, PM Shehbaz Sharif said Pakistan’s foreign policy was “one of friendliness and goodwill towards all”.

“We want good relations with all neighbours, including India,” said the prime minister.

However, he stressed that for “complete normalisation” of relations, including the revival of trade ties, India must “reverse its actions” of Aug 5, 2019, when New Delhi revoked the limited autonomy of Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir.

He also called upon India to end its “state terrorism” in IIOJK and not seek “demographic changes in the occupied territory to perpetuate its illegal occupation”. –Anadolu Agency