Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has accused his predecessor Imran Khan of ruining the country’s economy and called him the “the biggest liar on the face of the earth” who has injected poison into society to “dangerously polarise the electorate” after he was toppled from power in April.
In an interview with The Guardian newspaper from Pakistan, Sharif spoke about the “damage” that Khan, who ruled Pakistan from 2018 to April this year, had done to the country in both domestic and foreign affairs.
Pakistan is currently in the midst of an unprecedented economic crisis, as it grapples with mounting inflation, sky-high foreign debt, and declining foreign currency reserves. Pakistan has also been hit by unprecedented floods. The floods have killed over 1,600 people and displaced more than 33 million others in Pakistan.
The floods have left a third of the country submerged under water and caused estimated damage of nearly USD 30 billion.
Sharif, 71, called Khan “a liar and a cheat” whose policies had left the economy in ruins.
He accused Khan, who ran on an anti-corruption manifesto, of conducting the country’s affairs to suit his own personal agenda “in a manner which can be only described as the most inexperienced, self-centred, egotistical, immature politician in the history of this country.” Khan was ousted from power in April after losing a no-confidence vote in his leadership, which he alleged was part of a US-led conspiracy targeting him because of his independent foreign policy decisions on Russia, China and Afghanistan.
Khan made repeated allegations that the vote was a “foreign conspiracy” against him by the US and claimed to have a diplomatic cable to prove it. The US has denied any role in his ouster.
The issue was further inflamed last week after audio recordings of private informal conversations, held by Khan in his office when he was prime minister, were leaked onto the internet. In the audio leaks, Khan could allegedly be heard discussing the controversial US cypher and how to exploit it to portray his ouster as a conspiracy.
Sharif said the leaked audio clips were “an irrefutable endorsement that he (Khan) is the biggest liar on the face of the earth. I’m not saying this with a sense of glee but a sense of embarrassment and concern. My country’s image has been damaged hugely by these lies told out of mean personal interest.” Sharif acknowledged he faced significant challenges ruling Pakistan while Khan was mobilising on the streets, the newspaper said.
“Never before was I concerned about our country’s future,” said Sharif. “Imran Khan has injected an infinite amount of poison in this society and made it hugely polarised as never before … he is distorting facts and creating hate.” Pakistan’s Cabinet has approved a legal inquiry into the audio leaks. Sharif said Khan “has to be held accountable for all these conscious criminal acts”.
“Khan has damaged Pakistan’s relations with the United States for no rhyme or reason,” said Sharif.
Though the anti-American sentiment is still rife in Pakistan, Sharif’s administration has been actively working to mend ties with the US. Foreign Minister, Bilawal Bhutto, returned from a US trip this week and Qamar Javed Bajwa, the army chief, is currently in Washington.
Sharif also made it clear he would be reaffirming Pakistan’s close relationship with China, which reportedly suffered under Khan after he stalled on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a multibillion-dollar infrastructure project that is a cornerstone of China’s belt and road initiative (BRI).
There are concerns that the CPEC is leading Pakistan into a debt trap with China, and mounting local opposition has led to the CPEC projects and workers being hit by bomb blasts.
Sharif vowed to continue with the project, and will visit China in November, describing the country as “one of the most trusted friends of Pakistan”.
“Make no mistake, CPEC is a project which is not only good for Pakistan’s wellbeing but for the whole region,” he said.
Sharif was open about his brother Nawaz Sharif’s involvement in government. “Of course, I consult Nawaz, he is my leader and my older brother,” he said. “But he has given me completely free rein to make decisions.” Nawaz Sharif was disqualified from office and sentenced to 10 years in jail on corruption charges he said were politically motivated. He was given temporary bail to travel to London for medical treatment in 2021 and never came back. He is now said to control the party from his property in central London, with Sharif making two visits in the past month.