On the eve of the country’s Diamond Jubilee, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Saturday hold out an olive branch to his bitter rival Imran Khan, renewing his offer of sitting together to reach a consensus on the “charter of economy” in the greater national interest amid worsening economic crises.
Coming a day after President Dr Arif Alvi offered his offices to broker some dialogue between the prime minister and the PTI chief, the offer from Shehbaz attains greater significance.
The president had called upon the country’s political leadership to lower rhetoric and adopt the policy of reconciliation, feeling that the country was drifting away from achieving its real objectives because of self-created political and economic crises.
The president and the prime minister’s offer to pour oil on the troubled waters has come amid skyrocketing political mercury with relentless confrontations among stakeholders, charges of inciting mutiny in the armed forces against Imran’s chief of staff and the economic woes left to bear the brunt of political wrangling.
In a televised address to the nation minutes before the PTI chairman’s address to a rally in Lahore, the prime minister lambasted the PTI government’s performance during the last almost four years and kept questioning if that could lead to getting real independence – a tacit reference to Imran’s slogan of obtaining real independence where the country would pursue an independent foreign policy and no one would dare to dictate Pakistan.
Being opposition leader in the National Assembly, PM Shehbaz said he had offered the charter of economy and added “today, as Prime Minister of Pakistan, I am once again offering the opposition to discuss the charter”.
PM Shehbaz said that time demands that the nation should continue its journey in the right direction and do not let national interest to be sacrificed at the altar of personal ego and stubbornness.
“We should remember that the real political leadership doesn’t keep an eye on the next elections but on the future of the next generations,” the prime minister said.
He said that the nation was pitted against ruthless realities that could be countered with national consensus, continuation of the policies and political and economic stability.
In his speech, the prime minister questioned why the country was suffering from crises, the most important of which were the economic and emotional ones. “This [emotional] crisis is the shaking of our belief in self-esteem,” he said, saying it has embroiled the national existence today. Also, the prime minister pointed out that the nation was facing a crisis of despair.
“The seeds of chaos and hatred are being sown,” he said and added “An unholy attempt is being made to divide the nation and divide the national unity.”
At the same time, the prime minister said, the economic crisis created by the previous government has made the situation worse, regretting that the habit of seeking aid and economic dependence on others had become country’s national identity, which its elders would never have imagined. “This is my bitterest experience as prime minister from April 11, 2022 till date,” he shared.
Expressing that the coalition government was determined to take Pakistan on the path of economic self-reliance, the prime minister said that “there was no concept of freedom without economic freedom”.
He said that the previous PTI-led government left the largest trade deficit of $48 billion in the history of Pakistan. To reduce the deficit, he said, the government had to borrow from friendly countries and international financial institutions. “Is this true freedom,” he questioned.
The premier said that the previous government had taken Rs20,000 billion as loans in just four years — the highest in the country’s history — saying the interest payment of the loan has become impossible. “Is this true freedom,” he reiterated.
In 2017-18, the prime minister said that the PML-N government had left Pakistan self-sufficient in wheat. Today, he regretted, as a result of the previous government’s “criminal negligence”, the country was forced to import wheat at a cost of billions of dollars. “Is this true freedom,” he questioned again.
Due to corruption and criminal negligence, PM said, the previous government did not sign any long-term contract for importing LNG, which was available at a cheap rate back then. “This is the main reason for load-shedding and expensive electricity today,” he said, asking “is this true freedom”.
Among other things, PM Shehbaz asked “at whose behest the previous government did irreparable damage to Pakistan’s economy by shutting down CPEC projects”, while taking a jibe again at Imran Khan by asking “if this is true freedom”.
As a result of the PML-N-led government’s economic policies, the prime minister said, unnecessary imports were strictly controlled which was helping Pakistani rupee strengthened day by day.
By adopting austerity, he said, the government will depend on its own resources just like independent nations, saying oil and gas were currently being imported to generate expensive electricity by spending billions of dollars.
Instead, he said, the government has decided to install thousands of megawatts of solar energy projects that will save billions of dollars on the one hand and will also provide cheap electricity to the people.
Before concluding his speech, PM said that the nation will have to revive the spirit of self-reliance that made Pakistan, saying the country could be rebuilt with the same spirit. “August 14 is a day; let us become one nation on this day,” he concluded.