Prominent Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) leader Jahangir Khan Tareen in a wide-ranging interview on Thursday night said that the country’s economic situation is difficult but will improve as his party brings long-term reforms.
Tareen appeared on DunyaNews show hosted by journalist Kamran Khan, who asked the PTI leader questions ranging from his influence on the incumbent government to the dramatic changes in Prime Minister Imran Khan’s cabinet in the first nine months.
To a question about the reshuffle of the cabinet in April — in which the prime minister had changed the ministers for finance, information, health and interior — Tareen said: “You see, it is only later that you find out how someone performs. Players sometimes play well in the nets and not in the match.”
“Khan should be praised for his action. He has changed players who weren’t working. This isn’t a team that can’t change. Those who perform stay, those who don’t fall behind.”
He said that the prime minister is “hands on” and that whenever there are mistakes, others will be brought in.
“Don’t worry [about the situation], we will make this work,” said Tareen. “Yes, it is a worrying situation but we will handle it.”
“This [economic situation] is not [where we wanted to be],” Tareen said. “We are surrounded by challenges today. The confusion has hurt us, but the promising thing is that a new finance team is here. Khan has brought excellent people at key posts. This is the face of ‘tabdeeli‘.”
“Abdul Hafeez Sheikh [the new finance adviser] is an experienced man. We needed someone experienced. [State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) Governor] [Reza Baqir]5 is also experienced, but he is an out-of-the-box solution. The SBP has never before brought an experienced person who knows the outside world and is an expert.
“Similarly, [Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) Chairman] Shabbir Zaidi is also an out-of-the-box solution. All of Pakistan knows that what Zaidi knows about tax, no one else knows. He has a grip on internal issues and understands why people don’t pay tax in Pakistan.”
“This is a team that will together [deliver] — with Imran Khan and me as well, in my personal capacity. I am standing with Khan whenever is needed. This new team will bring us out of the confusion.”
When asked by the journalist why the party was unprepared for steering the economy, Tareen said: “You are exaggerating a little. The economic challenges and confusion in the last 10 months have overshadowed the positive changes we have made.”
He added that steps have been taken to improve the energy sector, including a drive against theft and non-payment.
“From October till today, we have collected Rs80 billion which we soon hope to take to Rs90bn. Our long-term goal is to recover Rs200bn in the energy sector to fix the issue of circular debt.”
Tareen also claimed that his party has brought circular debt down from Rs38bn to Rs26 million.
He added that positive steps have been taken for the sugarcane and wheat industry and that the long-term plan includes boosting IT infrastructure and garment export.
Change in BoI chairman
On the subject of the resignation of Haroon Sharif, chairman of the Board of Investment, Tareen said: “The truth is, the expectations Razzaq Dawood and Khan had from the BoI were not being met.
“People who don’t perform can’t bring that change. We have limited time, we can’t afford for this not to happen. I am a frank person, this is the reality. Umar Ayub, Murad Saeed, Nadeem Babar and lots of others — these people will go ahead.”
When asked by the journalist about his hands-on involvement in governance despite the Supreme Court decision to disqualify him from public office for life, Tareen said he is committed to supporting Khan.
“I have a handicap (the disqualification) which I feel is unjust against me,” Tareen said. “It was done for balance, not justice. But what has happened has happened. [I am there] wherever someone sees a need for me, whatever task is given to me. I support our team that is playing on the frontlines. I don’t want to do anything that will cause anyone to point a finger at Imran Khan and say ‘This is not right.’ I am in the background.”
He added: “There is no legal barrier to me working with the government. I am a political worker. I can work in politics, I can become a member of a committee, but I can’t hold a post. If I can contribute to my country, I will. Often people ask me, what my motivation is. I tell them I have worked hard with Khan for nine years… now he has become the prime minister and I cannot abandon him. It’s not right if I say ‘I won’t help unless I hold a position’. I will stand with Khan till he needs me.”
Tiff with FM Qureshi
The journalist posed a question about the reported tension between Tareen and Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, to which Tareen said: “There have been efforts to sort this out. You are right, there should be no division in the party at this point. But there are also people who are united. He also said that it is the prime minister’s decision whom he invites to a cabinet meeting.
When asked about the ongoing National Accountability Bureau (NAB) cases against members from opposition parties, Tareen said: “We cannot abandon accountability. At this time, both parties [the PPP and the PML-N] top leadership are facing criminal cases. Some have been convicted. We cannot abandon this. But there aren’t two, three people in the party. They have a second tier leadership and we are happy to work with them for the betterment of Pakistan. These parties are using parliament to protect themselves. Shahbaz Sharif would come [to parliament] and destroy the environment.”
Faisal Vawda controversy
When asked about the allegations surfacing about Minister Faisal Vawda, who is being accused of corruption, Tareen said he has not discussed the matter with the prime minister or Vawda.
“This news has come a day or so ago. Faisal Vawda has fought for the party. He is a fearless person. As a minister, his work has been good. This [allegation] will be looked into. Vawda may be aggressive at times. But he is a part of our party. I have not had a discussion on this [allegation] with him or the prime minister. This morning I saw it. If there is something, Khan will decide how he sees fit.”
On the issue of loss-making state-owned enterprises and privatisation, Tareen said: “My personal opinion is that we have to take action and fix what we can. If we can’t fix something we should do public-private partnership or privatise it. Time should not be wasted. We should engage the private sector. For instance, airlines and OGDC, we can work to improve. But we should get rid of the things that are hurting the economy.”