- Reaffirms govt's commitment to steer economy towards export-led growth
- Highlights initiatives for various sectors including agriculture and SMEs
ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan on Wednesday reaffirmed his government's commitment to take the economy towards export-led growth, adding that initiatives in this regard are being taken in various sectors including agriculture, livestock, and small and medium enterprises (SMEs).
Speaking in the National Assembly, he said that Rs60 billion has been allocated in the federal budget for the uplift of agriculture sector, adding that tax exemptions worth Rs100 billion are also being given to enhance the productivity of this sector and ensure food security. He said the Punjab government has launched “Kissan Card Scheme,” adding that the small farmers will be given direct subsidy on inputs such as fertilisers and pesticides.
He said Kissan markets will also be established so that farmers get due price of their produce.
He said that a livestock project is aimed at enhancing the milk production and the result of the initiative will be visible in the next two years.
He said that the SME sector is being incentivised to generate economic activity and provide job opportunities to the youth.
The prime minister appreciated his economic team for presenting a budget in accordance with his vision of establishing a welfare state, adding that it is the first budget which contains unprecedented allocations for social protection.
He said that Rs500 billion has been earmarked to uplift four to five million weakest segments of society.
Under this programme, he added that interest-free loans will be given to these households.
Besides, they will be given Health Card and technical training, he said, adding that these poor households will also be made part of the low-cost housing programme.
He said the health card scheme will bring a revolution in the health sector of the country, adding that the private sector will be fully facilitated, including through provision of land to them on low cost to build health facilities and also to allow duty-free import of medical equipment.
About Ehsaas programme, he said that 12 million deserving households will be given direct subsidy on purchase of essential commodities from the utility and general stores through a software being developed in this regard.
Besides, he said 90,000 undergraduate scholarships would be given to the deserving students.
The prime minister urged people to honestly pay their taxes to take forward the country on the economic front, adding that a tax collection target of Rs5,800 billion has been set for the next fiscal year.
This, he said, is a tough target but will be achieved through reforms in the FBR, including its automation.
He said that willful tax defaulters will be put behind bars.
Commending the record remittances sent by the overseas Pakistanis, he asked the diaspora to make investments in different sectors of the economy, adding that obstacles in the way of their investments will be removed.
Referring to the economic hardships when his government came to power, the prime minister thanked Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and China helping saved Pakistan from defaulting on loans, adding that the country was facing a $20 billion current account deficit and the government had no option but to go to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
The Prime Minister categorically stated that “Pakistan can be a partner in peace with the United States, but we cannot be a partner in conflict, now”, emphasising that “Pakistan will not make any compromise over its sovereignty out of “someone’s fear.”
The prime minister stated this, while giving a wide-ranging statement to the National Assembly, which was applauded by the treasury benches and some opposition lawmakers, particularly by his arch rival – Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F).
Terming it the “darkest” era in the country’s history when the then military dictator, Gen Pervez Musharraf decided to join the US war against terrorism as a “front-line state”, the prime minister said that as a Pakistani, he had never felt more “insulted” than when Pakistan decided to join the US war.
He said: “Does any country get involved in another’s war? What they [the Americans] said, we kept on doing that. Musharraf wrote in his book that he took money and sent people to Guantanamo Bay prison…The matter did not stop there, they [the Americans] ordered us to send our army to the tribal areas. We sent our army to the tribal areas. They were our people. What was the result of that?”
He pointed out that he was even called “Taliban Khan” when he repeatedly used to oppose the policy of the use of forces both within the country and in Afghanistan.
He pointed out that despite human losses of more than 70,000 and economic losses up to $150 billion, the US never recognised Pakistan’s sacrifices, but raised doubts over Pakistan’s role and also continued drone strikes inside the country.
“Despite all these sacrifices and so many services, did they [the US] praise us or acknowledged our sacrifices? Instead, they called us a hypocrite and blamed us. Instead of appreciating us, Pakistan was bad-mouthed…Have you ever heard a friendly country conduct drone attacks inside the territorial boundaries of another friendly country?” he questioned, adding that the nation should remember that period forever and the “idiocy” of the policies of that time.
“A terrorist who is sitting in London since 30 years. Will they [the British government] give us permission to attack him?” he questioned in an apparent reference to the MQM founder Altaf Husain.
“If they will not give permission then why did we? Are we subhuman or half human or do our lives not have enough value?” asked the prime minister.
He pointed out that in a meeting of the US Senate, an American commander had claimed that the Pakistan government did “not tell the truth” to its citizens.
“We disrespected ourselves, the world did not disrespect us,” he added.
The prime minister recalled that when al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden was killed in Abbottabad, the overseas Pakistanis hid their faces because “our ally did not trust us enough to carry out the attack”.
In Afghanistan, he added, Pakistan and the US have a shared objective.
He said that the US has finally realised that there is no military solution to the Afghan conflict.
He said the US has now given an exit date from Afghanistan and it is asking Pakistan to woo the Taliban for talks.
He said Pakistan has no leverage with the Taliban except that it can only ask them to hold negotiations to avert a civil war in their country.
He asked: “How much more pressure can we exert on them [Taliban]? Do we put their [Taliban] families who are sitting here [residing in Pakistan] in jail?”
He said peace in Afghanistan is important for Pakistan to build economic linkages with the Central Asian states, adding that Pakistan wants no “strategic depth” in Afghanistan. He said Pakistan does not have any favourites or parties in Afghanistan, adding that Pakistan would respect and support what the people of Afghanistan choose for themselves.
“We can be partners in peace with America and would continue to be always, but we cannot be partner in conflict, now,” the prime minister stated in categorical terms, adding that Pakistan would never compromise on its sovereignty out of someone’s fear.
The prime minister said that he has waged a struggle for rule of law in the country, adding that bringing the powerful people under the ambit of law is important to exploit the country's true potential.
He also stated that if someone has reservations over National Accountability Bureau’s (NAB’s) actions, the courts of the country are free and they can approach them.
The prime minister invited the opposition parties to sit with the government for talks on electoral reforms, adding that electoral reforms are important for the future of democracy in the country and for holding free, fair, and transparent elections.
He said it has been his effort over the last two years to bring reforms, so that the election results are acceptable to all.
He said the opposition has so far not responded to the reforms proposed by the government.
He stressed that the use of electoral voting machine is important to check the irregularities that take place at the close of voting process.
He, however, said that if the opposition has some other suggestions on electoral reforms, the government is ready to listen to them.
The prime minister also made it clear that relations with India cannot be normalised unless the Indian government takes back the illegal steps of August 5, 2019.
Paying tribute to the immense sacrifices of oppressed Kashmiri people in the Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir, he said that entire Pakistan stands by their Kashmiri brothers and sisters.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2021