Pakistan poised to accept stringent IMF conditions amidst deepening economic crisis

1 month ago
Pakistan poised to accept stringent IMF conditions amidst deepening economic crisis

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif announced on Friday that the government is facing unprecedented conditions from the IMF for a bailout package, as the country grapples with a worsening economic crisis.

A crucial moment arrived for Pakistan as an International Monetary Fund (IMF) delegation touched down in the country on Tuesday for talks aimed at reigniting crucial financial aid that has been on hold for several months.

Despite pressure from the IMF to increase taxes and cut subsidies, the government remains steadfast in its decision, wary of potential backlash as the upcoming elections in October draw closer.

“I will not go into the details but will only say that our economic challenge is unimaginable. The conditions we will have to agree to with the IMF are beyond imagination. But we will have to agree with the conditions,” Sharif said in televised comments.

Pakistan’s economy is in dire straits, stricken by a balance of payments crisis as it attempts to service high levels of external debt, amid political chaos and deteriorating security.

The country’s central bank said Thursday its foreign exchange reserves had dropped again to $3.1 billion, which analysts said was enough for less than three weeks of imports.

The world’s fifth-biggest population is no longer issuing letters of credit, except for essential food and medicines, causing a backlog of thousands of shipping containers at Karachi port stuffed with stock the country can no longer afford.

Data on Wednesday showed year-on-year inflation had risen to a 48-year high, leaving Pakistanis struggling to afford basic food items.


With the prospect of national bankruptcy looming, Islamabad in recent weeks began to bow to pressure prompting the IMF’s last-minute visit.

The government loosened controls on the rupee to rein in a rampant black market in US dollars, a step that caused the currency to plunge to a record low, and hiked petrol prices by 16 percent.

But the IMF wants further hikes to artificially cheap petrol, electricity and gas prices, designed to help low-income families, and the withdrawal of tax exemptions for the export sector and a boost to the pitifully low tax base.

“Accepting IMF conditions will definitely increase prices, but Pakistan has no other choice,” analyst Abid Hasan told AFP. “Otherwise, there is a fear of a situation like Sri Lanka and Lebanon”.

Rejecting conditions and pushing Pakistan to the brink would have “political consequences” for the ruling parties, but so will agreeing to IMF measures raising the cost of living, he said.

Pakistan had sketched out a $6.5 billion dollar loan package with the global lender, which has so far paid out roughly $4 billion.

Political chaos

The next instalment on the negotiating table is unlikely to induce an economic turnaround on its own.

However, friendly nations Islamabad usually approaches for help have indicated they may open their books once the IMF is on board.

The tumbling economy mirrors Pakistan’s political chaos, with former prime minister Imran Khan heaping pressure on the ruling coalition in his bid for early elections while his popularity remains high.

Khan, who was ousted last year in a no-confidence motion, negotiated a multi-billion-dollar loan package from the IMF in 2019.

But he reneged on promises to cut subsidies and market interventions that had cushioned the cost-of-living crisis, causing the programme to stall.

It is a common pattern in Pakistan, where most people live in rural poverty, with more than two dozen IMF deals brokered and then broken over the decades.