IN an interview, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, has warned of an additional burden on people as a result of the conditions that the Government has agreed with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for restoration of the aid under the stalled bailout package. The PM dwelt at length on various important issues agitating the minds of the people, including the one-year performance of his government, the economic situation, elections, Toshakhana record, party matters as well as probe into the murder of anchorperson Arshad Sharif.
Apparently, the Prime Minister was trying to sensitize people about more hardships in their daily lives but the Government must understand that the capacity to absorb more shocks is exhausted and therefore, there is need for relief for the people as the Government has done only recently by announcing measures under the framework of Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP). The inflation has multiplied and family incomes have squeezed due to implementation of IMF conditions and people are justified to ask what was the logic of having such a programme if there was still no visible improvement in the economic conditions of the country and its people.
The Prime Minister expressed the confidence that a staff level agreement would be signed with the Fund in the next few days as the country has already implemented toughest conditions put by the global lending institution. About delay in the signing of the accord, he said there was a trust deficit because of violation of the accord that the PTI Government signed with the IMF and now the Fund wanted implementation of the agreed terms in letter and spirit. Surely, there is a need to bridge the trust deficit as it is harming the economic and financial interests of the country as is evident from the fact that even the closest of friends were not willing to assist in the absence of an accord with the IMF. In reply to a question, the Prime Minister clarified that cases (over eighty in number) against former PM Imran Khan were not framed by the Government but registered by citizens. He explained that the PTI chief had been avoiding arrest on the excuse of illness or injury and got relief despite using foul language against national institutions. Shehbaz Sharif also pointed out that during the PTI government, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PMLN) leadership, including himself, Nawaz Sharif, Maryam Nawaz, Hamza Shahbaz, Khawaja Asif and Rana Sanaullah, were implicated in false cases and subjected to inhumane treatment in jails.
As for general elections for provincial assemblies of Punjab and KP, the Prime Minister avoided a direct answer and instead remarked that no political party could escape the polls and that as President of PML(N) he has asked party men to submit applications for tickets for which the candidates are being interviewed. However, he added that it is for the Election Commission of Pakistan to hold the elections. The ECP has already issued election schedule for the Punjab Assembly and now the KP Governor Haji Ghulam Ali, after his separate meetings with President Dr. Arif Alvi and the Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja, too has proposed May 28 for KP elections but the situation is still uncertain because of the logistic problems being encountered by the electoral body. This is because the Pakistan Army has expressed its inability to provide the required number of manpower for polls in view of the security situation in the country.
The Commission was informed that it was, however, prerogative of the Government to determine whether it wants the Army to perform its primary duties or secondary tasks like election duties and that in case of election duty, the army can be deployed in quick reaction force mode but it will not be possible to perform duty in static mode. There are also legal, constitutional, financial and administrative hiccups in the way of timely conduct of the polls for the two assemblies and therefore, nothing can be said about elections on the given dates. The Prime Minister also brushed aside the impression that there were serious differences within the ranks of the PML(N) and hoped that the party would emerge even stronger once former Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif returns to the country.