Pakistan on Monday backtracked after its Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi earlier on Monday claimed Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had written to his Pakistani counterpart Imran Khan, seeking to initiate bilateral dialogue.

Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs clarified that the foreign minister had “not stated that the Indian Prime Minister had made an offer of a dialogue”. The ministry said Qureshi meant that Modi wrote to Khan saying that the way forward was only through constructive engagement.

“Pakistan looks forward to a mutually beneficial, uninterrupted dialogue with India to resolve all issues,” the ministry said. “Any attempts to instigate controversy and vitiate the environment are counter - productive and against the spirit of responsible journalism.”

Qureshi was sworn in along with 15 colleagues by President Mamnoon Hussain on Monday.
“I want to tell the Indian foreign minister that we are not just neighbours; we are atomic powers,” he had said, according to Dawn. “We have a lot of common resources,” he had said at a press conference just hours after being sworn in.

Qureshi had said dialogue was the only option and that the two countries need to stop “adventurism and come together”. “We know the issues are tough and will not be solved overnight, but we have to engage... We cannot turn our cheek. Yes we have outstanding issues. Kashmir is a reality; it is an issue that both our nations acknowledge.”

Unidentified Indian government officials had told ANI that Narendra Modi had written a congratulatory letter to Imran Khan but there was no new proposal for dialogue.

Qureshi’s statement came a day after Imran Khan said his government would work to establish good relations with all the country’s neighbours and hold talks to normalise ties, Geo TV reported. “There is a need for peace and without it, we cannot improve the country’s situation,” Khan said in his first address to the nation since being sworn in as the country’s 22nd prime minister.

Austerity and economic challenges

In Sunday’s hour-long speech, Khan talked about Pakistan’s challenges on the economic front, promised sweeping reforms to implement austerity and revive a stagnant economy. He highlighted the country’s debt burden, Dawn reported. “Never in Pakistan’s history have we faced such difficult economic circumstances,” he said. “Our debt burden is now at Rs 28 trillion. We haven’t been as indebted in our entire history as we have become in the last ten years.”

Khan observed that Pakistan’s rank in the human development index was poor. “We are unfortunately among the five countries where infant mortality is highest because they do not have access to clean water,” he said, pointing out deficiencies in the country’s human development. Pakistan also has “the highest rates of mortality for pregnant women”, he added.

The prime minister spoke of inequalities in wealth and asked how the government had no money to spend on people while a few live like the country’s former colonial masters. He urged the rich to reassess their priorities and announced that he would cut down on his expenses as well as the that of the government.

“I will keep only two people with me out of the [prime minister’s staff of] 524,” he said. “I will be staying in a three-bedroom house that served as the military secretary’s house. I will have to keep two of the cars because my intelligence agencies tell me my life is under threat.”

The rest of the bullet-proof cars will be auctioned off, Khan said, adding: “I invite businesses to come and buy them. We will put the proceeds of that auction in the state treasury.”

The prime minister said he would initiate tax reforms instead of rebuilding the economy with the help of external loans, Dawn reported. “No country can succeed by taking on debt again and again,” Khan explained. “Debts are taken for brief periods of time. We cannot go on the way we have. And you need to realise that when these people give us money, they attach conditions to it.”