ISLAMABAD: Taking exception to Prime Minister Imran Khan’s recent remarks about the country’s nuclear deterrence, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) alleged on Tuesday that the cricketer-turned-politician was brought to power to fulfill the “foreign agenda” of rolling back the nuclear programme.
“Who has given the right to this prime minister to say that Pakistan’s nuclear programme is negotiable,” wondered Ahsan Iqbal, the party’s secretary general during a lacklustre and over-stretched debate on the federal budget in the National Assembly.
Mr Iqbal was referring to the reported interview of Prime Minister Imran Khan to a US journalist published in newspapers on Tuesday.
In reply to the interviewer’s observation that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal was growing, not shrinking, the prime minister said Pakistan’s nuclear programme has “only one purpose” — deterrence. “It’s not an offensive thing.”
“The moment there’s a settlement in Kashmir, I believe the two neighbours will live as civilised people. We will not need to have this nuclear deterrence,” Mr Khan had reportedly said.
“The cat is now out of the bag. Imran Khan has been brought (to power) to roll back Pakistan’s nuclear programme. This is the agenda of the foreign donors,” he stated, alleging that the purpose of giving the statement was to send a message that Pakistan was ready to roll back its deterrence.
“Pakistan’s nuclear deterrence is non-negotiable,” he declared.
A number of treasury members spoke after Mr Iqbal, but no one specifically responded to the PML-N leader’s comments.
Two PTI MNAs slam govt for loadshedding, price hike
Speaking on the budget, Mr Iqbal warned that a new and “worst wave” of price hike would hit the nation after passage of the finance bill. He said Pakistan was nowadays passing through a “non-planned phase” due to “directionless policies” of the present government.
The PML-N leader regretted that while carrying out character assassination of the opposition, Mr Khan had started a “character assassination of Pakistan itself”.
He criticised the prime minister for declaring Pakistan a country of “the corrupt and money launderers” in his speeches at international forums, observing such remarks were enough to frighten away investors.
Mr Iqbal recalled Finance Miniser Shaukat Tareen’s statement that Pakistan had become a net importer of food, saying things were different when the PML-N government’s tenure ended in 2018.
He alleged that ministers wanted to make the CPEC projects controversial through their statements.
“Today China has gone to Iran with a $400 billion package,” he said.
Referring to repeated allegations by ministers that the previous government had set up expensive power projects, Ahsan Iqbal said all the projects had been approved by Nepra after strict scrutiny and if these projects were not viable, the PTI-led Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government was also responsible for it as the projects were approved by representatives of the federal and provincial governments.
The PML-N leader ridiculed a statement of Defence Minister Pervez Khattak that there was no poverty in KP, saying “this is why we call them selected (people)”.
He said the defence minister, who had served as the chief minister of KP, must know that according to the government’s own survey, out of the 32 most poverty-stricken districts in the country, 17 were in KP.
Taking part in the budget debate, retired Major Tahir Sadiq and Noor Alam Khan of the ruling PTI blasted their own government over loadshedding and price hike.
They also criticised the budget “for offering nothing to the poor”.
Mr Sadiq asked the prime minister to get rid of non-elected advisers because they were “misguiding and misinforming” Mr Khan.
The PTI MNA from Attock said price hike and corruption were at their peak and bureaucrats were indifferent to the common man’s misery.
Noor Alam Khan, a PTI MNA from Peshawar, expressed his concern over inflation and asked the government to bring down the prices of electricity and petroleum products.
He criticised the allocation of a big amount for the Ehsaas programme. “Instead of making people beggars, the government should provide them relief by reducing prices of essential items.”
The house continued to witness a war of words during the debate between the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the treasury members belonging to Sindh, particularly those belonging to Karachi.
Some PTI members from Karachi made personal attacks in their speeches on the PPP leadership, including Asif Zardari, and were paid back in the same coin.
A number of women members from the opposition blasted the prime minister over his controversial remarks about rape victims.
Earlier in the day, federal Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry invited the opposition parties to talks on electoral and judicial reforms in the country.
He said judicial reforms were needed to remove flaws from the existing system and to evolve a mechanism for judges’ appointment and constitution of Supreme Court benches.
Stressing the need for national cohesion to cope with the worsening situation in Afghanistan, the minister said the political leadership should evolve a strategy to tackle the emerging challenges.
Taking a dig at the opposition, Fawad Chaudhry said it seemed that Shehbaz Sharif had no control over his party.
“The opposition leader is Shehbaz Sharif, but it seems that decisions are taken by someone else.”
The minister said 57 per cent of the revenue being collected by the federal government would go to the provinces. On the other hand, he said, the federal government had to bear major expenditures such as Rs2,000bn for debt servicing, Rs700bn for pay and pensions as well as the defence budget.
He regretted that the Sindh government had done nothing for provision of basic amenities. Karachi was the world’s fifth largest city, but it did not have its own police.
“Billions of rupees were being taken in the name of Badin and Ghotki, but no development is being carried out there.”