Prime Minister Imran Khan has rejected the notion that Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative was a debt trap for Pakistan and termed the critcisim against the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor as ‘nonsense’.
Speaking to CNBC along the sidelines of the World Economic Forum 2020 (WEF) in Davos, the premier underscored Islamabad’s gratefulness to China’s help.
He said Pakistan had “hit rock bottom” when the “Chinese came to help us with the BRI and then CPEC.”
“We’re really glad the Chinese came and rescued us,” he said and added that the money pumped in by China is “barely five or six per cent” of the country’s total loans.
“This is nonsense that China indebted us,” he asserted. He added that China had in fact helped with investment and also provided an opportunity to attract more investment.
“We’ve created these special economic zones where we are giving special concessions to industries.”
PM Imran said Sino-Pak ties were beyond BRI. “There is also technology transfer under CPEC. Especially in agriculture because Chinese technology is much better. Our productivity is very low. They are also developing skills centres in Pakistan,” he said.
“They’re really helping us,” he continued. “We’re grateful.”
When asked about the possible role of US President Donald Trump to curtain Narendra Modi-led government’s anti-minority rhetoric in India, PM Imran said he believed Kashmir to be a far more serious problem that the world realised.
Shedding light on the Occupied Jammu and Kashmir situation, the premier highlighted that eight million people were under siege since August 5 when the Modi government revoked IOJ&K’s autonomy.
“I say it’s a serious situation because I’m worried it would spill over… already their army chief has given a statement that the Pakistani side of Kashmir belongs to India.”
“These are two nuclear-armed countries,” he stressed. “That’s why I want Trump – head of the most powerful country in the world – to intervene right now.”
He said the United Nations came into being to resolve conflicts.
Elaborating on the possible course the international community can take to contain the situation, the premier said the UN and UN Security Council should act as deterrents and “stop this nonsense”.
“India passed two legislations that have alarmed 200 million Muslims in India,” he continued. He added that the ongoing protests in India were joined by non-Muslims including minorities and intellectuals because “they realise where this is headed”.
Responding to host Hadley Gamble’s question if the situation in India was on the same lines of Uighurs in China, Imran pointed out that New Delhi had already passed an Act that deregistered 200 million people in Assaam. “And because two million out of those were Hindus, the Bharatya Janata Party (BJP) legislated Citizens Amendment Act 2019.”
“Is this leading to genocide?” asked Gamble. “In Kashmir, I am scared,” said Imran. “It’s a disputed territory between Pakistan and India – confirmed by UN resolutions that add that a Kashmiri referendum could decide who they want to join.
“Now the disputed territory has been annexed by India,” he continued. “They are trying to change the demography of Kashmir – which is a war crime according to the fourth Geneva Convention.”
Reflecting on the estranged ties between Washington and Islamabad, Imran blamed former military dictator General (r) Pervez Musharraf’s over ambitiousness.
“Why did the ties between Pakistan’s security forces and the US suffer? I did not want Pakistan to become a part of the war on terror post 9/11 because Pakistan had nothing to with it. There was no Pakistani involved, the al Qaeda were in Afghanistan. I felt why are we going in this war?”
“Initially,” he continued. “There was this romance because Musharraf was fighting US’ war. After a while when he could not deliver – and he could not deliver. He should never have promised he could deliver what was beyond him.”
“He could not win the war in Afghanistan for the Americans,” he asserted. “No one could.”
But they kept asking him, he added. “And he [Musharraf] kept promising. So that’s where the mistrust began.”
Imran emphasised that this time things were different. “This time it’s based on common objectives – on the fact that I always believed there was no military solution in Afghanistan and Trump shares the idea.”
The premier said that he and Trump were both working towards a peace process. “We’re trying our best. It’s not easy – its 19 years of turmoil. But it is the only way.”
Imran said he was convinced the Afghan Taliban and the Afghan government could work out a political settlement if they sit on a negotiating table.
Elaborating on the first year of his government, Imran said it was spent on stabilising the economy. “We inherited a bankrupt economy with huge fiscal and current account deficit… Our currency lost value – but fortunately, it stablised without any government support and found its market value.
Imran said the market sentiment had improved. “It’s the highest in one year while foreign direct investment (FDI)increased 200% in one year.”
The premier said the country was headed in the right direction. “[We are headed] towards an export-led growth rather than a consumption or import-led growth. Which is why we had the imbalance and had to go to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).”
Imran said the tough economic decisions are the only way to get out of the 30-year cycle to rely on IMF loans.
“I feel we are on the right track,” he explained. “The only thing is that people are hurting because of the measures we’ve taken.” Imran said now that the economy had been stablised, the government was concentrating on growth and creating employment.
Responding to a question regarding business community’s reservsations, Imran said the people he held responsible for corruption was “always the political elite”.
“If the political elite is clean then there won’t be chronic capitalism. The problem in Pakistan was that we had two political houses that competed in syphoning off money out of the country.”
Imran stressed that the system fails because of a corrupt political leadership. “It’s not the business community I blamed. In fact, this is the first government to go out of its way to promote industrialisation since the 1960s.”
The premier reiterated Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf government’s commitment to eradicating anti-profit making policies. “Making money was considered a crime… now we are doing everything possible for people to make profit.”
He said it was important to make profit if the country wanted to attract investment.