Until very recently, political opposition to Imran Khan’s PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf) led government has been all but toothless. That may be changing – as action by the opposition’s nascent PDM (Pakistan Democratic Alliance) gathers momentum.
Although the government continues to use the tough (and rough) rhetoric that has been its hallmark, there are unmistakable signs the government has been rattled after the eleven-party opposition coalition drew huge crowds at both its Gujranwala and Karachi rallies.
The Truth International correspondent sat down with Fawad Chaudhry, the incumbent Federal Minister of Science and Technology, for his take on the emerging political situation and the state and position of the PTI government against this backdrop.
A slick political operator who is the scion of a storied political family from Jhelum, Chaudhry sounded fairly unruffled by the opposition’s progress – although he admitted the government’s approval rating has plummeted due to the woes people are facing because of an economic slowdown.
- What is your analysis of the devel-oping political situation?
In Third-World countries, politics is volatile and people hardly agree on anything. However, the problem is that in a country like Pakistan if certain groups keep protesting and come out on the streets every now and then, it will be hard to find stability and the economy will suffer eventually. Pakistan’s already weak economy has suffered a huge set back further due to COVID-19. This movement will no doubt add to the economic woes that Pakistan has been struggling with for decades.
- Opposition to political rallies and protests seems a bit strange coming from PTI, a party that rose to power on the back of public rallies. Does that not appear as a contradiction to you?
Every movement has a moral currency. For example in the cases of Iceland and Brazil, the movements were justified due to the political leaders’ involvement in major international scams. Those movements resulted in political change. On the other hand, if the nation does not start a move-ment against the political scams, that actually shows the moral bankruptcy of the nation. However, here in Pakistan the PDM’s nefarious objectives – to compro-mise NAB cases, get NROs, and stage a political comeback – make this movement immoral.
- Do you think PEMRA should have banned Nawaz Sharif ’s speech from being aired? What is your perspective on censorship?
No, I do not agree at all. Advancement in Information Technology has made censorship nearly impossible and some-thing that cannot be censored seems useless to be banned. So the opposition political parties need to hold a strong narrative to convince the public and authorities. Also, the ban comes from PEMRA, not from the government, and PEMRA banned the address due to court decisions. PML-N should appeal the courts and get the relevant court order reversed. As far as I know, government policies do not support the ban.
- There has been no official state-ment from the Federal Government regarding the arrest of Captain Safdar. Don’t you think there should have been a response?
Army Chief has already started an inquiry at all levels and a report is due soon. However, all this dramatic performance in Sindh where senior and junior police officials asked for leave, is merely the result of directions coming from Bilawal House.
If Sindh police were so principled, they would have acted the same and stood up for themselves in the Omni Group case, occupation cases, and extrajudicial killings in Sindh. The only apparent reason is that they are at war with institutions and they have tried to capitalize on this event to undermine institutions.
- Do you think appealing to the army for an inquiry into the incident was the right thing to do? Does conducting such an enquiry fall within the army’s constitutional remit?
If we talk about the constitution, then we should appeal to the Prime Minister instead of the Army. Basically, this entire movement is completely unrelated to the constitution, democracy, and civil suprem-acy and the main agenda of this movement is personal empowerment and personal gains. The opposition wants to get relaxation from the government for the NAB cases against them. More than that, this movement has no other aim. More-over, Bilawal appealing to the Army Chief has contradicted his entire narrative.
- An aura of mystery still surrounds Captain Safdar’s arrest. Is it a ploy of the government to create a rift between opposition parties?
If that was the case, it would be a political strategy not be lightly revealed.
- What is your personal view on how the government should take this entire matter further till January 2021?
They are protesting and addressing the nation which they can because that is their political right. The only problem is they should not target the institutions because institutions cannot respond like politicians and this inability creates problems. Apart from that, if they wish to air their differ-ences or criticism, they have every right to do so and we do not have any problem with that.
- Would you say the performance of the PTI government has taken a toll on its popularity?
Due to COVID-19, the entire world’s economy is shrinking and this inflation problem is not limited to Pakistan since it has increased in India, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka along with other economies. Due to the interdependency of economies, international prices have reached their peak in history. When the Coronavirus situation settles down with the availability of vaccines, only then can we expect improvement. But certainly, the government’s popularity has been affected temporarily.
- What do you have to say about the performance of your Ministry?
Our three priorities right now are agriculture, electronics, and chemicals. We are running supplementary programs under these three categories. We are developing modern livestock farms in agriculture which will contribute to the technology input. We are promoting the manufacturing of drones and robotics in electronics along with the making of ventilators. We have also reserved 200 acres of land in Faisalabad and are planning to reserve some land in Sialkot for manufacturing ventilators to cater to the electromagnetic market. Globally, the electromagnetic market is around a few trillion dollars and Pakistan can make its mark in that market along with some programs of chemical replacement.
Article by: Palwasha Khattak