ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan indicated that Pakistan was on the verge of hitting a kind of jackpot in the form of discovering a huge reserve of oil and gas.
“Just pray that our hopes and expectations from the offshore drilling being carried out by the ExxonMobil-led consortium prove to be true,” he said.
“There’s already been a delay of about three weeks, but if the indications we are getting from the companies are anything to go by, there’s a strong possibility that we may discover a very big reserve in our waters. And if that happens, Pakistan will altogether be in a different league,” he said.
In an informal chat with a group of newspaper editors and other senior journalists, PM didn’t share details of the offshore drilling process. And there has been no official word from ExxonMobil and the international oil exploration company ENI which have been involved since January in drilling an ultra-deep well (230km inside the sea) for oil in what is known as Kekra-1 area.
ExxonMobil returned to Pakistan after nearly a decade after surveys were carried out last year suggesting the possibility of big oil reserves within the Pakistani waters.
The prime minister believes that if big oil reserves are discovered, most of Pakistan’s economic problems will be addressed and then there will be no stopping the country’s progress.
Talking about various challenges his government was confronted with, Mr Khan said that bringing about economic stability remained his biggest challenge.
He said when he took charge, the foreign reserves were extremely low and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) was putting extremely tough conditions, like “asking us to allow free floating of the rupee”.
Mr Khan said that with the help of friendly countries like the UAE, China and particularly Saudi Arabia, the government managed to improve the situation. Now, he said, even the IMF had relaxed its terms and things were moving in the right direction.
He was quite critical of the Federal Bureau of Revenue (FBR) and said they had been scaring away businessmen, which “has compelled us to transfer their policy-making powers to another entity, leaving them with the task of collecting tax”.
He said there were serious solvency issues as at the moment more than 60 per cent of the country’s wealth was in the form of black money. The bulk of this money was being parked in real estate, with the result that the property prices had been skyrocketing and hardly any money was being invested to boost trade and development. This, he said, needed to be reversed for which some unpopular measures would have to be taken.
Khan said apart from the challenge to revive the economy, the other problems included “institutional building and creation of jobs”. The massive housing scheme the government was coming up with would help address the latter to some extent.
The other challenge he spoke about in detail was of combating terrorism and the so-called “jihadi culture”. When asked to comment on the remarks of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a recent radio interview, Mr Khan didn’t respond directly but said the reality was that Pakistan could not live or survive in isolation.
In fact, he said, no country in the world could allow private militias to operate at will. “Here is a situation that on the one hand India is wrongly blaming Pakistan for the Pulwama attack just because Jaish accepted responsibility, and on the other, even Iran is complaining that militant groups have been using our soil to carry out attacks.”
He said all the political parties had already agreed to the National Action Plan and by now the militant groups have been proscribed. Further action was being taken against them as his government could not allow any such activity on the soil of Pakistan.