- Says his government's tenure was a 'huge learning experience'
- Stresses need for judiciary and bureaucracy to work together for contract enforcement
Former Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan, ousted through a no-confidence vote by a united opposition in April this year, has said a major overhaul is needed to “change Pakistan”, highlighting the need for “specialists” that help transform the economy.
In an exclusive interview with Rana Mubashir of Aaj News and Ali Khizar, head of research at Business Recorder, Khan said his government’s tenure was a huge learning experience, admitting that there was a lack of expertise within bureaucracy.
His remarks come as he campaigns aggressively to hold general elections ahead of time, which he believes would end economic instability in the country.
“My previous 3.5-year tenure was a huge learning experience,” he said during the interview aired on Saturday. “The first year was the hardest because I realised that our bureaucracy lacked expertise. We had no expertise in the IT sector.
“When you bring people from foreign countries, it has to be done beforehand. Once you are in government, firefighting consumes most of the time, so it’s difficult to recruit people. This time, we have started the exercise right away,” said Khan, outlining a rough economic roadmap as he moves aggressively to call for fresh general elections.
We made an excellent plan for Bundal Island and a consortium of foreign countries was ready to transform it into a new city. Our NOC (no-objection certificate) was cancelled at the last minute: Imran Khan
The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chairman, whose party was blamed for economic mishandling when the opposition moved a no-confidence vote but who insists a "foreign conspiracy" acted as a trigger, admitted he was ill-prepared because he "hadn't been in the government before" when he won the general elections in 2018.
Khan, during his tenure, had been severely criticised for constantly shuffling his economic team including chief of the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) and finance minister.
"In America, when (Joe) Biden administration assumed power, he was given a presentation from different departments for 2.5 months.
"His team was already made, and he knew where the loopholes lied.
"I was ill prepared because I hadn’t been in the government before. We had learned by the 3rd and 4th years and we were expanding. We had escaped crisis. When we were ousted, we had huge plans. We had plans to expand the industry. If I come into government again, I will turn it around," he said.
Pakistan needs the bureaucracy and judiciary to help enforce contracts: Khan
Khan, however, stressed that in times of an international crisis, there are bound to be problems.
"Amid an international crisis and with low reserves and exports, if global energy prices rise, of course there would be problems. England, America and Germany are reeling from energy problems as well.
"We were managing it efficiently and the lower income groups were not impacted. We slashed development funds to give subsidies."
The cricketer-turned-politician said Pakistan needs the bureaucracy and judiciary to help enforce contracts, which would help investment in the country.
"We need specialisation in bureaucracy and we have to sit with the judiciary to implement contract enforcement due to which investment does not enter Pakistan.
"When overseas Pakistanis are asked why don’t they invest in Pakistan, they reply that it is due to fraud and injustice. Until and unless people have confidence on contract enforcement, investment does not come. It comes with good governance.
"Regulators are tasked to protect public interest, but there are 800 stay orders issued against them. How can there be a stay order on actions of a regulator? Consider the sugar mafia. It was fined Rs30 billion and had a stay order pending for 11 years. Sugar mafia had penetrated the Competition Commission of Pakistan (CCP).
"We tried to change this and prepared a report that proved cartelisation but it also got stuck with the judiciary. We have to sit with the judiciary to discuss all this. Cases worth Rs1.5 trillion are stuck with FBR (Federal Board of Revenue) and no decision is taken.
"Next comes the establishment. Governance systems cannot function without balance between government and establishment.
"The establishment is a reality in Pakistan and responsibility and authority have to go hand in hand in every system. The responsibility was with me but authority was somewhere else. You are blaming me for not conducting accountability, but we had no power to hold anyone accountable."
Take the example of Ravi city. When we were making it, a lot of consortiums emerged similar to Bundal Island and $3 billion foreign investment was ready for Pakistan but an 11-month stayorder and work got stalled: Imran Khan
Karachi's uplift and 18th Amendment
When Khizar mentioned the PTI government's failure to uplift Karachi despite Sindh's provincial capital being a vote-bank for the political party, Khan said the federal government cannot develop a province.
"After the 18th Amendment, all powers were devolved to the provinces. The Sindh government blocked us everywhere, even when we created the Sindh Development Plan and Karachi Revival Plan.
"Sindh was not our province but still we gave it money. We made a lot of revival plans and tried our best. After the 18th Amendment, the federal government cannot develop a province.
"We made an excellent plan for Bundal Island and a consortium of foreign countries was ready to transform it into a new city. Our NOC (no-objection certificate) was cancelled at the last minute.
"Billions of dollars would have been earned by Sindh and all this money could have entered the current account. Sindh government sabotaged it. The way Karachi is expanding unplanned, you cannot provide facilities to it."
Balance civil-military relations
Khan said Pakistan has to balance civil-military relations that have come under the scanner after his government was ousted.
"I am telling you that we have to take harsh steps to exit the crisis that is in the making. We have to balance civil-military relations.
"The government and judiciary have to sit together.
"Take the example of Ravi city. When we were making it, a lot of consortiums emerged similar to Bundal Island and $3 billion foreign investment was ready for Pakistan but an 11-month stayorder and work got stalled. Foreign investors cannot understand this. We wanted to protect people from problems through Ravi City.
"I am convinced that we have to completely change the system of governance to deal with the problems facing Pakistan. All stakeholders have to join hands and decide how to exit this situation. First of all, everyone has to turn export-oriented. No one has focused on exports till now."
When asked by Mubashir on his stance on the US, a country Khan has openly criticised for being responsible for his ouster, the PTI chief said there are no friendships in international relations but interests.
"There are no friendships in international relations—rather there are interests. It's my responsibility to benefit my country. We should have taken oil and wheat from Russia and not enter someone else’s war. Despite this, we should keep relations good with all countries but not compromise on our country.
"People do not understand western minds. They can use you as tissue paper. Imported government did not take oil, wheat from Russia but India is doing it."
When Khizar pointed that India has close to $600 billion of foreign exchange reserves and it could afford being "strong", Khan said "we had been dependent on America for a long time but reserves didn’t increase.
"What did we get?"
On elections, and joining assemblies
Khan said there is no plan to go back to the assemblies.
"Going back to the assemblies means that we accept a foreign conspiracy that brought our government down. The day we go back, it means we accept this 'crime minister' and set-up. So there is no question of going back," said Khan.
On Khizar's question if Khan should play the role of a statesman and set aside political goals at a time of economic instability, the PTI chairman replied saying: "Should all these thieves not have thought that we steered the economy with great difficulty during the pandemic —a pandemic that comes once a century and creates a global crisis.
"We pulled our people, our economy out of the crisis. The world acknowledged it. So to conspire to bring down that government, did these people not worry about the country?
"They were just worried about covering their tracks. I believed that when thieves run a country, then you call it a banana republic. This is the problem in all poor countries. When they took over, the first thing they said was that our government had drowned the people in inflation. We kept saying it was a global problem.
"But alright, let's accept this and swallow the bitter pill that the government has been toppled. At least then the new government should have tackled inflation. We had heard a lot about its experience. You've said inflation is at a 50-year high. A record has been broken.
"But aside from that, the economy that was growing at 6% has tanked. Industry and agriculture, the two areas which generate wealth, are in crisis. Twenty percent of textile mills in Faisalabad have closed down. Costs have gone up. There is a recession on the horizon."
Khan said all stakeholders need to agree that holding elections should be the priority.