ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s government and former premier Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) opposition party on Tuesday engaged in yet another war of words and blamed each other for the country’s economic woes, after the latter issued a “white paper” against the Sharif administration.
Pakistan has for months been embroiled in an economic crisis, with its current account deficit widening, foreign exchange reserves diminishing below $6 billion and the national currency hitting record lows. The South Asian country is desperately looking for external financing as the specter of a default on its international payments looms large.
The political instability, which gripped the country since the ouster of Khan from power in April, has also been impacting the frail economy, with investors avoiding taking any positions.
Khan, who was removed from the office in a no-trust vote, says he was ousted as part of a US-backed conspiracy, enabled by the country’s military and his rival political leaders. He has since been agitating against the government, calling out the ruling coalition for its alleged corruption. The former premier has held several protest rallies and threatened dissolution of two provincial assemblies controlled by his party and allies, in a bid to force early elections in the country.
In line with the same goal, the PTI released on Tuesday an in-depth report, called a white paper, to highlight the state of Pakistan’s economy. In the document, the party cited comparative statistics and claimed that PM Sharif’s government failed to live up to the people’s expectations ever since it assumed power in April last year. It said that Pakistan witnessed “the best-ever economic performance” in its history during Khan’s tenure.
“Politics is inextricably connected with the economy, therefore, the nation is afraid as to where the country was heading [under the coalition government],” Khan said at the launch of the report in Lahore.
In response to the white paper and Khan’s “statement, Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb said it was ironic how the same political party, which “destroyed” Pakistan’s booming economy when it came to power in 2018, had the audacity to issue a white paper about the performance of the ruling coalition.
“No white paper can whitewash the wrongdoing [of the PTI-led government] and no white paper can cover up the economic destruction [Khan] carried out [during his term],” Aurangzeb said at a press briefing after Khan’s speech.
The information minister cited several figures about the performance of the government to counter the PTI’s claims in the white paper, asking the opposition party to rather document its “own corrupt practices.”
“Do you think you can fool the Pakistani nation by issuing this white paper,” she asked Khan.
During his speech, Khan also called out the government for approaching the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and said that instead of asking the global money lender for help, the government should have focused on its exports.
“When a country goes to the IMF, it risks its sovereignty because the country has to obey the body’s orders,” Khan said.
“You are no longer in a position to make your own decisions.”
Replying to Khan, Aurangzeb said the former premier had “no right” to point fingers at the government for seeking the IMF’s assistance as it was his government that had signed $6 billion deal in 2019, which was later expanded to $7 billion.
“You had claimed that you’d rather opt for suicide than go to the IMF, but you still did and also signed deals with it,” she said, lamenting that Khan still had the temerity to accuse others.
The statements from both sides came as Pakistan’s foreign minister issued an emotional appeal ahead of a major conference next week, urging the international community to generously donate funds for the country’s flood victims.
The gathering in Geneva on Monday — jointly hosted by the United Nations and Pakistan — aims to raise funds for the victims of last summer’s unprecedented flooding, which experts partly attribute to climate change.
The disaster killed 1,739 Pakistan, affected another 33 million and caused the South Asian nation more than $30 billion losses.