Prime Minister (PM) Imran Khan on Saturday refused to say that former military bigwig as well as his ex-aide Lt Gen (r) Asim Saleem Bajwa was not guilty of corruption, maintaining that it wasn’t his job to say so.
In an interview with senior journalist Mansoor Ali Khan, when asked to say on camera if Bajwa was not guilty of corruption, the premier said, “I cannot say this because it is not my job to say this. However, I will say that he gave a very detailed answer to the allegations against him. I sat with our law minister and reviewed it.”
Earlier this year, Bajwa had rebutted a news report linking his military career to his family’s businesses, terming it “malicious propaganda”. Amid opposition’s tirades against him despite a clarification, he had decided to continue serving as the chairperson of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) Authority but stepped down as the premier’s aide on information and broadcasting.
PM Imran himself had, however, expressed satisfaction over the ex-army official’s clarification regarding his assets and rejected the resignation at first.
“These were mere allegations and if anyone had any problems with it, they should file a case against the retired army officer with the National Accountability Bureau (NAB),” the premier said on Saturday.
He added that Bajwa was made the CPEC chairperson based on his credentials as opposed to any pressure from the army on him to do so. “He had served in the past as the commander of the Southern Command in Balochistan and had also worked closely with the Chinese. Gwadar is the focal point of the whole CPEC project.”
The premier said that the government had then appointed Bajwa as his special assistant on information as he had also worked as the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) chief and had the much-needed experience for the job.
PM Imran reiterated that he was not under any pressure from the armed forces and among other executive decisions, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) was in charge of the country’s foreign policy. “The army hasn’t [directed] me to do one thing which I did not want to do,” he said.
“I would have resisted the army if they exerted pressure on me. The entire foreign policy [being implemented today] is mine, you can check the PTI’s manifesto,” the premier added.
The prime minister said that Pakistan’s foreign policy today was centered around the PTI’s manifesto, adding that the world was praising Pakistan for advocating non-military solutions to conflicts. “There was pressure on us to take a side in a conflict between any Muslim countries; we said we would remain neutral and play our role in uniting Muslim countries instead.”
During the wide-ranging interview, PM Imran spoke on various issues and also trained guns at the opposition.
Responding to a question, he said that former PTI general-secretary Jahangir Tareen was going through “difficult times” but said that he would not interfere in the sugar inquiry investigation.
“Jahangir Tareen has been really close to us [in the past], we have worked together in the past closely,” he said. “Tareen says he is innocent. The investigation is going on, I will not interfere in matters of institutions,” added the PM.
He said that under his government, an inquiry against the sugar cartel was launched for the first time in Pakistan’s history. He said that an FIR had also been registered against Tareen.
When asked about former Punjab government spokesperson Fayazul Hasan Chohan who was shown the door a couple of weeks ago and Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan was appointed as a special assistant to the chief minister (CM) of Punjab, the premier said both mattered to him.
“We need both Fayyaz Chohan and Firdous Ashiq Awan,” he said. “In order to win the match, you need to change the team sometimes,” he said.
The premier said that Chohan wanted a “strong” ministry which he had been given now.
Speaking further about the Punjab government, the PM said that his party had brought in people on merit. “The same setup was in power in Punjab over the past 30 years, but we brought in people on merit.”
He said that the new Punjab inspector general (IG) was doing a fabulous job, adding that Punjab CM Usman Buzdar was doing a commendable job as far as development projects were concerned. “You will see that after five years, Buzdar will be the number one provincial chief executive in the country,” he said.
When asked to respond to allegations of being a “selected” PM, the premier said that he couldn’t understand their criticism.
He said that Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) chief Bilawal Bhutto Zardari was the leader of his party because “he had shown a piece of paper” (in reference to Benazir Bhutto’s will) and Maryam Nawaz was leading the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) because she was Nawaz Sharif’s daughter.
“And they make these allegations against a man who has struggled in politics for the past 22 years,” said the premier, referring to himself.
He said that the leadership of the PML-N and the PPP had opened corruption cases against themselves. “Nawaz Sharif threw Asif Zardari in jail,” he said. “Our government only made cases against Shehbaz Sharif.”
Referring to former PM Nawaz’s medical condition, the premier said that when he read the PML-N chief’s medical reports, he couldn’t help but wonder whether a person could suffer from so many ailments. “No one exerted pressure on me to send Nawaz abroad,” he said, adding that no one could do so either.
To another question, PM Imran said that the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), being one of the best spy agencies in the world, knew about everything he does.