Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan addresses a Kashmir rally in Islamabad, Pakistan, Friday, Oct. 11, 2019
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan addresses a Kashmir rally in Islamabad, Pakistan, Friday, Oct. 11, 2019

Islamabad: Prominent Pakistani newspapers have criticised Prime Minister Imran Khan for his controversial statement that he wished he could send 500 corrupt individuals to jail by emulating Chinese President Xi Jinping's "crusade" against corruption, saying it revealed a "disturbing mentality".

Khan, who was in Beijing this week for talks with the Chinese leadership, including Xi, identified corruption as one of the biggest impediments to investment in Pakistan and said one thing he had learned from China was how the country's leadership tackled corruption. "I wish I could follow President Xi's example and put 500 corrupt people in Pakistan in jail," said Khan on Wednesday while addressing Chinese businessmen.

"One of President Xi Jinping's biggest crusade has been against corruption," Khan said. Imran was referring to Xi's massive anti-corruption drive launched in 2012 that reportedly netted more than 1.3 million officials at various levels, from the elite to the ordinary.

Xi, who is also general secretary of the ruling Communist Party and commander-in-chief of the military, has launched a high-profile campaign targeting party, government, military and state-owned company officials suspected of corruption. But the Pakistani media cautioned Khan against aping the Chinese model anti-corruption drive. "Of course, China has long been admired by Pakistani leaders for its transformation from a backward, isolated state into a modern economic powerhouse.

"But though there are many things we in Pakistan can learn from China's impressive rise since the founding of the People's Republic in 1949, there are also lessons on what to avoid, especially if the ruling establishment wants to stick to the confines of the democratic system," Dawn newspaper said in an editorial.

Khan's statement seems to be a milder version of what his Cabinet colleague Minister for Water Resources Faisal Vawda said not too long ago, that 5,000 people should be hanged to secure the future of 220 million people of the country, it noted. "While corruption is indeed a bane that has been eating away at Pakistan's vitals for decades, the aforementioned comments reveal a disturbing mentality," the editorial commented.

Instead of filling the jails with the corrupt, or worse, hanging people in the streets, the leadership of the country should be talking about creating a viable system that punishes unscrupulous individuals in a transparent manner, and eliminates the scourge at the grass roots, it said.

"There are many things in the Chinese model that are worthy of emulation. But frequent executions and purges - the horrors of the Cultural Revolution should not be forgotten - should not be among them," it said.

At the same time, the Dawn editorial noted that there can be little argument with the fact that over the past seven decades, China has made huge strides in many fields, including lifting over 850 million people out of poverty. "While the more violent episodes of modern Chinese history should not be replicated, the relationship between Islamabad and Beijing can mature and improve in a variety of sectors," the editorial added.

The Express Tribune, in its editorial, noted that despite the potential economic positives of Khan's visit to Beijing, there were a few stumbles for the premier, most notably his remark on wanting to jail 500 people for corruption, where he also stated his disappointment with the Pakistani justice system. "It does not good look for a prime minister to publicly criticise his own political and legal system on foreign soil," the paper commented, referring to Khan's statement that unfortunately processing [cases] in Pakistan was "very cumbersome".

Already several key Opposition leaders in Pakistan are in jail for alleged corruption and money laundering, charges they have dismissed as politically motivated. Former Pakistan president and Pakistan Peoples Party leader Asif Ali Zardari and ex-prime minister and chief of Pakistan Muslim League - Nawaz, Nawaz Sharif and are in jail for corruption charges. Ex-premier Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and former finance minister and PML-N leader Ishaq Dar are also facing corruption charges.

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Free Press Journal