Prime Minister Imran Khan on Sunday termed Pakistan’s strategic direction as “clear” which aimed at maintaining relationships with everyone instead of joining any bloc, amid the changing world’s political map after US-China economic tensions and Russia’s role in the region.
“I am very clear on it [strategic direction] and my small team is also clear on it and I think Pindi [Rawalpindi – the military establishment’s headquarters] is also clear on it that maintain your relationship with everyone,” he said during an interaction with journalists, former ambassadors and representatives of think-tanks on his China visit.
“We do not want to come at a position where suddenly we have to become part of any camp. I am clear what our strategic direction is,” PM replied to a question on the country’s strategic direction.
PM Imran’s statement came as rumours were rife about the country’s slide towards China despite having long ties with the United States. It further dispelled any other perception with the premier’s visit to Russia next month.
The interaction, as mentioned by the premier, was held to have experts and diplomats view on the China visit, the future course, and Pakistan’s role in the changing political map of the world.
Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry, National Security Adviser Moeed Yusuf, China-Pakistan Economic Authority Chairman Khalid Mansoor, and Special Assistant to the PM on Political Communication Shahbaz Gill were present.
The premier added that “everything” was right track because of the way the country “navigated in the minefield” over more than three years.
He further stressed the need for having a two-thirds majority in parliamentary democracy in order to bring fundamental reforms. He was of the view that “you cannot make everyone happy” in a coalition government as everyone has a share in the pie.
On the impact of the China trip on upcoming Russia’s visit, the premier said that he had a detailed conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin during the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit in Bishkek. “Putin has also interest and he said that there was no Islamophobia in Russia and we are home to 35 million Muslims,” the premier said while quoting the Russian president.
Premier Imran added that a function has been organised in Russia’s biggest mosque during his trip to the country.
The PM had agreed with one of the journalists question that the country pace with building special economic zones was not enough and blamed the 18th Constitutional Amendment for it.
“I agree on this with you. It’s not just about SEZs. After the 18th Constitutional Amendment, all our decision-making process has been fractured,” he said, adding that there were many issues under the legislation.
He was of the view that China advantage was its centralised decision-making authority, which gives go-ahead to the projects. “The problem faced by Chinese investors was related to not having synergies at the Centre and provinces especially, where we have no government.”
In addition to this, finance czar Tarin said the government was trying to end agencies and make provinces autofocus that they could make decisions. Moreover, he added that CPEC Authority Chairman Mansoor would assign a person to a Chinese investor in order to remove impediments and make the process smooth.
The PM also blamed the coronavirus pandemic for a halt on development projects, saying that it even delayed Chinese President Xi Jinping’s trip to China. On the debt settlement with the Chinese insurance company, Sinosure, he said there were “many things” on which the government had to make settlements.
It is pertinent to mention that work on the Gwadar power plant project would start after the debt settlement, two years after the premier laid the groundbreaking stone of the project in November 2019.
Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry further shared detail about the Chinese development project being completed till 2018 and in the past three years.
“There are now 11 working groups, which were seven till 2018; nine projects, which were previously 10, seven projects completed that stood at two till 2018; 453kms of road projects completed whereas 415kms of roads were constructed till 2018; $3.45 billion worth of investments made in 3.5 years whereas worth $3.9 billion investment were made till 2018; new projects till 2018 were 17 and now it is three new and 20 signed in China visit; 3,340MW of electricity was provided till 2018 and 5,564MW electricity provided in these three years; so far 880kms of transmission line has been installed whereas there was not one till 2018,” Fawad said.
According to PM Imran, the government’s connection with national interest swayed over more than three years. The government departments should know their path, exports, foreign imports, and import substitution that create wealth, he said, adding: “the system has been divorced. Our system is so disconnected.
He was of the view that the problem was in aligning the national interest and working of the government. “This happened in SEZs. A few SEZ lands went to real estate and its costs were so exorbitant… but we are trying to align it by having meetings [with officials concerned].”
Chinese President Xi’s ‘appreciation’
PM Imran had also said that the Chinese government was all praise for Pakistan’s fight against Covid-19 and economic situation. “President Xi especially said that you are on the track of sustainability,” he quoted the Chinese president as saying.
Earlier, FM Qureshi had said that both the countries had comprehensive meetings on the sidelines of the Beijing Winter Olympics.
“PM Imran took strong decisions like payment to IPPs before the visit,” he said.
He also mentioned that Pakistan and China have a complete consensus on Afghanistan. In March, FM Qureshi would be visiting China for a meeting of immediate neighbours on the Afghanistan situation. Moreover, both the countries were looking forward to trilateral – Pakistan, China, and Afghanistan – meetings to ensure economic stability in the war-torn country.
He also hinted at the possibility of ‘Troika plus,’ involving diplomats from Russia and the US.
During the interaction, a former diplomat advised the government to make a vision document, which should be 2050 and beyond. “In 2049, China will celebrate its 100 years and it will complete its goal of rejuvenation of China that means it will come out as world’s biggest country but we need an understanding and what will be our vision till 2050. We should work on this,” she advised.
She further advised the government to look beyond CPEC as there were investors in Chinese provinces
On this, PM Imran said that approval for any work in China comes from the top and then it was followed by the departments concerned.