Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar on Tuesday said he cannot predict who will be part of the next election or not. Kakar said the media had attributed wrong statements to him linking him to Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan’s future in the next elections. “Whether Imran Khan can take part or not is a matter for the law. Can you take part in elections if you are a dual national? The answer is no because there are laws that stop you from doing so. If the law allows, then one can take part in elections. The executive has no role in legal matters.”

The interim PM spoke to students at Oxford University’s Oxford Union and also addressed the Pakistani media at Pakistan High Commission, London, at the completion of his whirlwind tour of the US and UK.

When asked if there would be any deal with Imran Khan on 9 May related issues, the PM rejected emphatically any such impression. “There is no deal and no dheel. The media is hungry for news. Media needs new angles and news all the time. This is speculative news. Anyone who is a convict will get the punishment. These are standard procedures. If someone violates a law in this country, then that person is convicted and punished. It’s very simple.”

Kakar said the May 9 attacks on the Pakistan Army by the PTI were orchestrated and designed. “I see truth in the assessment that those events were orchestrated to target the current military leadership as how to undo or compromise that authority as part of a grand plan. It’s a sub-judice matter so I don’t want to comment more on this.”

He emphasised, answering questions: “We commit to fair elections that include giving PTI space in those elections on an equal basis. It is the prerogative of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to give the date and we will stick to it. We will provide assistance to the ECP. The elections will be monitored by local and international observers. Making allegations of foul play is part of our political culture but as long as elections are relatively transparent, then that means we have done our job.”

When asked about several PTI leaders and former premier facing serious charges of arson, terrorism and the state of human rights and media freedoms, Kakar said that those in prisons or being prosecuted have been involved in acts of vandalism, arson, destruction of public property and such elements in any civilised state will be facing such charges. He said no exclusive approach will be applied to Imran Khan and PTI as everyone is equal before the eyes of the law, nobody is above the law and none can be allowed to play with the laws of the land for political reasons. “Laws will be implemented at all costs in letter and spirit. Whosoever is convicted it will be because of their actions. There will be no injustice or false charges against anyone.” He regretted that the PTI didn’t play parliamentary politics. “If they were playing parliamentary politics then Imran Khan would have been the current opposition leader.” Kakar said that when Nawaz Sharif lands in Pakistan, the law of the land will take its course but “there are many legal aspects to it. He left Pakistan on court permission and this has to be seen upon his return. We will take advice from the Law Ministry. We don’t want to give the impression that we are targeting anyone. We want to do everything legally. I have not held any meetings with any politician in London.”

He said that press freedom generally is curbed everywhere, from India to Pakistan and elsewhere, but “what I can explain and assure is that every criticism appears in the Pakistani press. We are not using any leverage to influence the media. I don’t see that the media in Pakistan is being stifled.”

Kakar agreed that there is some civil and military imbalance but he said that the “larger criticism of the Pakistan Army is not valid and is out of proportion. A lot of criticism relies on hearsay these days.” Kakar said that several leading companies were investing in Pakistan and the investment of billions in Reko Diq in recent weeks was an example. “News about disruption and instability are blown out of proportion.”

He condemned the killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar in Canada by the Indian state agents. He said the Khalistan Referendum and Sikhs For Justice’s leader’s killing inside a Gurdawara was proof that India was involved in acts of terrorism at home and abroad. “Modi regime believed in Hindutva ideology which believes in eliminating everyone including Muslims, Christians, Jains and others.”

Separately, during an exclusive interview on TRT World’s The Newsmakers, Kakar said: “I assure you that the election process will be completely clean, transparent and free. There will be no support or opposition to any particular group at the administrative level in the election process.”

When the interviewer asked it was quite possible that Imran Khan’s supporters would not accept that he was not on the ballot. And if it is the case that they turn to the protests on the scale of what we saw back in May, what would that mean for this vote, the interim PM said: “As far as protests are concerned, if they remain peaceful it is their basic democratic right. And we will try to protect the democratic rights of any political party — be it the PTI or PMLN or PPP or anyone. What we will be observing or not allowing is the kind of vandalism in the name of protest or if people turn violent; that kind of situation cannot be acceptable to anyone.”

The caretaker PM said that his foremost priority to fix the problems of the country during his tenure in office would be to cut the government’s expenditure and increase revenue. “The economy is extremely pressing right now and these are the problems which are hitting a common man very hard,” he said when asked about his vision during the last four months of the caretaker setup.

Kakar said the International Monetary Fund (IMF) deal was an opportunity for the country to focus on how the economic behaviour was influencing the life of the common man in Pakistan. Kakar said the ouster of Imran Khan was “lawful” as it was carried out constitutionally and without a military coup. The PTI chief himself backed away from the narrative of conspiracy against America. “How would me or anyone in Pakistan believe in such a conspiracy […] when people who brought it to the public domain backtracked on that and said that it was probably for public consumption,” he maintained. “At times politicians do things for populist reasons, but as far as the responsible caretaker government is concerned, we ensure that no one whether it is the United States of America or any other power, meddles in our domestic affairs,” he said Pakistan is a sovereign country that exercises things according to its own interests.

To a question on civil-military relations, he said: “As far as our civil-military relations and their imbalance is concerned, I personally view it in a pure governance structure, and with that perspective. Pakistani politicians have had a political martial alliance with this institution for their own specific interests — all the political leadership; I won’t single out anyone. They have all sailed together with the same military to attain political power. And once they are out of power, this is one of their favourite mantras — to criticise and shift the onus of their own failures in terms of governance and pinpoint the reason behind that failure as an imbalance between civil-military relations.” He said that civil-military relation exists. “And the reason for that is that unfortunately in our case the civilian institutions that are responsible for service delivery at the behest of the government or the state [have been] performing quite poorly [for] the last three to four decades — be it in our health services, our education services, our disaster management, our tax revenue collection.” “So when there is this poor governance challenge, the only institution with organisational capability left with us is the military. So anyone who is leading the government has to rely [on it] for the day-to-day governance challenges and engage with them for that [service] delivery part,” Kakar added. “There is the real issue; and if you want to resolve that and if someone is genuinely interested that the military should not meddle in the affairs of the state structure, which probably is not [its] role, then we need to enhance the capability of these civilian institutions. The solution is not you weaken the organisational strength of the military.”

When the interviewer asked whether the military would stay for the foreseeable future in Pakistan’s politics when it is effectively the only truly disciplined institution in the country, the caretaker PM said: “Well, pragmatically, realistically, and honestly if I have to answer this then: affirmative — Yes.”

He said though Pakistan faced difficult times in terms of economy and security, there was no reason to become paranoid and feel insecure due to India’s “apparent success”. He said Pakistan desired meaningful dialogue with all its neighbours including India. Asked about any change in blasphemy law, he said it was out of the legislative domain of the caretaker government, but Parliament was empowered to bring any change in it.

Meanwhile, the caretaker government in Islamabad said that under the Constitution and prevalent electoral laws, all political parties had the equal right to participate in the general elections and categorically stated that the remarks of the caretaker prime minister during a recent interview to the foreign wire service Associated Press had been “misunderstood and misreported”.

The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting in its official statement issued the original text from the Associated Press to clarify that caretaker PM Kakar was plain speaking to suggest that whereas participating in the elections was a right, retribution for crimes was legally warranted. The ministry lamented that the interview had been “twisted by some outlets” to give the impression that someone would not be allowed to take part in the general elections. The ministry drew attention to the following text of the caretaker PM’s interview:

“We are not pursuing anyone on a personal vendetta,” Kakar said. “But yes, we will ensure that the law is appropriate. If anyone, be it Imran Khan or any other politician violates, in terms of their political behaviour, the laws of the country, then the restoration of the law has to be ensured. We cannot equate that with … political discrimination.” Kakar said fair elections can take place without Imran or hundreds of members of his party who are jailed because they engaged in unlawful activities, including vandalism and arson, a reference to the violence that rocked the country following Imran’s initial arrest in May.

He added that the thousands of people in Imran’s party who didn’t engage in unlawful activities, “will be running the political process, they will be participating in the elections.” The Information Ministry reiterated in its statement that the PTI and its leaders are free to participate in the elections like any other party. It has been clarified that there is no impediment to contesting elections by any leader of PTI or the party as a whole.

The statement further added that every citizen is equal before the law and the law will take its course with respect to any person currently facing legal charges. The courts are free and independent and the caretaker government has neither authority nor intention to influence the courts at any level. It was further clarified that any person aggrieved by any order or ruling of a statutory or judicial forum has a constitutionally guaranteed right to approach the next forum in the judicial hierarchy for relief.

“The caretaker government is committed to holding free and fair elections. The caretaker government will support the constitutional and legal structure for holding elections and would ensure that all orders and directions of the Election Commission of Pakistan and an independent judiciary are complied with in letter and spirit,” the government said in its statement.

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