ISLAMABAD - Prime Minister Imran Khan in Thursday’s National Assembly sitting said PTI’s government has never been in confusion in tackling novel coronavirus (COVID-19) since the start of the pandemic in the country.

“There was no contradiction in my statements on the matter of coronavirus and there has never been any confusion in dealing with the pandemic, as repeatedly stated by the opposition,” said Prime Minister Imran Khan, amid desk-thumping from treasury benches.  Unlike previous practice, Prime Minister faced no interruption from opposition during one of his longest speeches on the floor of the house.

The PM said that there was a need for a balanced strategy to avoid the spread of COVID-19 and also prevent the poorer segments of society from going hungry.

Regarding the lockdown policy, he said the government has to take care of poor people living in densely populated area and avoid the risk of increasing cases before imposing lockdown.

“Every country was going through its own experience to deal with novel situation of coronavirus, and the situation in our region was bit different to deal with it,” he said, mentioning his government had imposed a lockdown to strop the increase of COVID-19 when the country had only 26 cases and no deaths.

“It was my fear from day one that the lockdown model used by Western countries and China could not be copied in our country because of different situations in the subcontinent,” he said and rushed to mention that there was no centralised policy as provinces reacted as per their own strategy.

Regarding the examples of New Zealand in adopting social distancing, he said New Zealand has social distancing already with a low population density. Whereas, Pakistan has a high population density in many areas. He confidently remarked that the figures now coming in had shown that the government took the right steps to respond to the health crisis.

About criticism of him for changing statements on coronavirus, he did not hesitate to challenge opposition to “point out one statement that had inconsistency” since the lockdown was first announced on March 13.

He appreciated the National Command and Operation Centre (NOCOC) for collecting all the information on a daily basis and looking at trends with expert help due to which “our decision making was free of inconsistencies.”

The premier said that there was a dire need to move carefully as ‘next phase is difficult’.

“We can cope with the corona crisis if we deal with virus by adopting necessary precautions,” he remarked. “The next phase is difficult because we are trying to make people understand why following standard operating procedures is so important,” he said, adding that the virus spreads when there are clusters.

About the steps taken by the government, he said the incumbent government had opened the construction sector first and now the whole world admitting that “there are more negative effects of lockdown as compared to its impact on controlling the virus.

Answering the opposition members’ claims that his government is hiding behind coronavirus, he said even the strongest economies have faced recessions due to pandemic.

About the previous government’s move to support the US in war on terror, he said Pakistan had to face a lot of “humiliation” despite supporting Washington in the ‘war on terror’ and was then blamed for the US’s failures in Afghanistan.

Recalling the two incidents that caused “embarrassment” to Pakistan while supporting the US, he said: “the Americans came to Abbottabad and martyred Osama bin Laden. When happened after that? The entire world cursed at us and spoke ill of us.”

“So our ally comes to our own country to kill someone and doesn’t inform us? And 70,000 Pakistanis have died in their war. Look at the humiliation that caused to all the Pakistanis who were abroad.”

He further said that the US was carrying out drone strikes inside Pakistan, which the Pakistani government at the time said it opposed. But when an American Senator asked former US military chief Admiral Mike Mullen at a Senate hearing why drone attacks were being carried out despite the Pakistani government’s objection, Mullen replied that “we are carrying out the drone attacks with the permission of the Pakistani government.”

He said it was his party’s “consistent” foreign policy that its government would not participate in the American war and only take part in peace talks.

“Today, the country’s is not fighting somebody else’s war and the relationship with the US is based on trust,” he said mentioning that now no one was humiliating like the previous practice. “US President has always given me respect whenever we have met. In fact, he requests our help in bringing peace to Afghanistan,” he said, adding that Pakistan’s role in the Afghan peace talks was being widely acknowledged today.

Prime Minister Imran also said Pakistan had tried and is still trying to improve relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran. However, he acknowledged that there are problems in ending the conflict because “other players involved don’t want” to see that happening.

He said his government had also tried to mend relations with India but the BJP government’s agenda became clear when India annexed occupied Kashmir last year.  Imran said Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a “fanatic” who is a curse for not only Indian Muslims but also for Hindus.

He said the Kashmir issue has now reached a “point of no return” and India keeping eight million Kashmiris subjugated by deploying 800,000 troops will be “unsustainable”.

He said that his government would implement merit and the ruling elite would be accountable.

“I have given all the records to Supreme Court. Elites rush to term it political victimization when charged with accountability, I have no personal enmity with anyone but rule of law would be imposed in the country,” he said.

PML-N’s parliamentary leader Khawaja Asif, responding on speech of the Prime Minister, strongly criticized for using word martyred for Osama Bin Laden. “Imran Khan called Osama bin Laden a martyr. Bin Laden brought terrorism to our lands; he was a terrorist” said Asif during the National Assembly session. He felt Prime Minister was apologetic in his speech. “Now it is too late to co-operate with you,” he said, mentioning that the country would not progress in the presence of Prime Minister Imran Khan.

Chairman PPPP Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, responding to the speech of Prime Minister, challenged Prime Minister Imran Khan to have a debate on his policies either in the House or if he wants, any of the television channels.

“The Prime Minister’s speech was the speech of a selected puppet, for the selectors. It was not a speech for the people of Pakistan.”

He said that Prime Minister Imran Khan had no plan to deal with COVID-19 and only opposed the lockdown.

He said that the lockdown was the time to increase the health capacity of the country, equip our hospitals, to increase ICU beds in the hospitals, it was the time to plan to protect the lives and the health of the people.

He also said that the government failed to run a campaign to make people aware of COVID-19 in their own mother tongues. He said that no such campaign was run either on state radio or television.