January 18, 2024
ISLAMABAD – Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaarul Haq Kakar on Wednesday said that the media in Pakistan was “freer” than in the West, saying that latter was under “stricter regulations”.
The premier made the remarks in an interview with CNBC on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum. During the interview, Kakar talked about the economic outlook for the country, the upcoming election and charges against ex-premier Imran Khan.
Asked about concerns regarding the upcoming elections being “rigged”, the premier said critics should first let the polls take place after which the conduct could be questioned.
“First they said, we are not going to have elections. Now, when we are having an election, they are saying, ‘Oh, it is one of the most rigged elections in the history’,” he said.
The prime minister said that there would be international observers as well as foreign and domestic media reporting on the polls. “Let them then report and decide, whether it was rigged or not that rigged,” he said.
Asked whether the media was free and fair in Pakistan, the premier said, “I think so even freer than the Western media. If you do the comparison, the Western media is probably under more stricter regulations than the media in Pakistan.”
Commenting further on the topic of elections, Kakar said that hopefully on February 8, the people of the country would exercise their right to vote. He termed the holding of polls a “constitutional requirement”, saying that “everyone was committed to that date”.
He said that Pakistan was a transitional democracy, saying that such democracies faced “domestic challenges”.
“I am not saying we are living in a settled, ideal democracy […] Yes there are concerns but we will try, as much as we can, to give a chance to the people so that they can elect their future leadership in a very fair manner.”
He further said that Imran was not jailed for his political opinions but for his “alleged role in committing riots and encouraging arson” and for calling on his supporters to do the same, in a reference to the events of May 9.
“This sort of behaviour is dealt with by the law even in settled democracies,” he said, drawing a comparison between the attack on the US Capitol in 2021.
“The people who have been involved in the riots are behind the bars. It is not that innocent people have been picked up for their political opinion and have been denied a political role or being part of that process. So I do not see that as unfair,” the premier said.
When the interviewer pointed out that Imran has alleged that the charges against him are politically motivated, Kakar said, “He has all the right to say that but let the courts decide that. It is not for me, for the media or for public opinion to decide this question […] the courts are there to address all these questions.”
Terrorist attacks in Pakistan
At one point, the interviewer highlighted that Kakar had recently blamed the uptick in terrorist incidents in the country on the return of the Taliban in neighbouring Afghanistan and asked whether the prime minister blamed the administration of US President Joe Biden.
“No, I do not blame anyone for anything. It is the situation and the circumstance in which we are living. We did foresee that there would be implications for Pakistan when the US and Nato withdrawal would happen. And that is why Pakistan was advocating for a responsible withdrawal,” he said.
“But at the same time, we do appreciate and see the perspective of the Western hemisphere […] when they were in a rush to leave the region, they had their own priorities. […] So Afghanistan was an abandoned project for them. But for us, it had real-time tangible implications and particularly the gadgets which were given to the Afghan army which unfortunately were sold to the black market,” he said.
The premier went on to predict that the development would have “implications for the larger Middle East” too as “they would be selling it to all the non-[state] actors in the region”.
When asked if the region was “doing enough” to address Pakistan’s security concerns, PM Kakar replied, “I think at the moment, we are on our own.”
Warning of a risk of a “spillover effect”, he emphasised, “Even at a global level, I feel the strengthening of the structure-level [and] institution-level of Pakistani state is very much required.”
Afghan refugees; China ties
The interview also touched upon the deportation of illegal immigrants from Pakistan, most of whom are Afghan.
“There were people for the last four to five decades and few of them no doubt were engaged with our terrorism challenge, with our crime challenge, with our organised crime challenge and other social evils, but not all of them,” he said.
Kakar highlighted that there was “no perpetual ban” on the deported immigrants.
“If they want to return to the country, they can do [so] by receiving their travel documents from back home and have regulated movement,” he said.
Asked if US actions in Afghanistan had brought Pakistan closer to China, the premier responded in the negative, adding: “With China, we are strategically close. We have history with the Chinese [people].
“Pakistan still enjoys and remains pretty much close to the Chinese state and no matter what happens in the region, either in Afghanistan or anywhere else, that will not affect our relationship with China,” he asserted.