Pakistan has welcomed the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) partial bailout with a deep sense of relief, but also with a red face in what many perceive as “direct interference” in their internal affairs after the global lender conducted ‘unprecedented’ meetings with various institutions and political stakeholders.
The political parties that were ‘consulted’ have eschewed their usual anti-West tirade, but sections of the media have questioned the “attack on national sovereignty”. Some have justified it as a measure by which the IMF, like any lender, would want to ensure that its money is properly utilised.
Comments follow the political divide on whether former Prime Minister Imran Khan, whom the IMF officials formally consulted through a virtual conference, was justified in seeking from them a ‘guarantee’ of early elections in the country. The consulting, media reports say, revived Khan’s public image as a combative critic, who again raised fears of physical attacks on him and/or his party, deeply truncated by the exodus of its members, being disqualified from contesting the elections.
Everyone agrees that the bailout is only a ‘temporary’ relief and does not guarantee either economic or more importantly, political stability. Pakistan remains under dire economic stress as the squeeze loosens in terms of inflationary trends but with no impact on widespread shortages of essential commodities, jobs, industries closing down and foreign companies withdrawing.
An editorial in the Urdu newspaper Jasarat (July 10) bemoans that against the $3 billion relief coming in, Pakistan will have to service its external debt of $23 billion next year.
The yet-to-come bailout itself is likely to come in tranches with political strings. Asima S., writing in another Urdu daily Awami Awaz (July 5), states that the Shehbaz Sharif government may get only one billion and the second billion may be released to the caretaker government.
Other media outlets speculate whether this was promised to Imran Khan who has run a relentless campaign in the American media and lobbied with the Joe Biden administration.
Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah on July 10 indicated early dissolution of the provincial governments in time for the caretaker government. But the life of the caretaker government itself is a matter of serious speculation. It depends upon the military establishment’s thinking on how to deal with Khan who is perceived as retaining his popularity, although un-tested since his party imploded in the last two months.
The army struck back at the rebellious Khan after the May 9 violence and arson at military establishments by Khan’s supporters. It has also ignored Khan’s overtures for reconciliation. In the public eye, it has regained or retained its primacy in the ongoing discourse.
Army chief General Asim Munir’s address at the July 10 conference on the “Green Pakistan Initiative” highlighted the military’s readiness to join the “economic recovery”, but made no mention of the political process or the elections that Khan continues to demand.
Munir’s address was ‘commended’ by Prime Minister Sharif, media reports said, in the presence of representatives from several “potential investors” into Pakistan’s economy.
The life of the caretaker government may be extended, by amendments to the Constitution if need be, if the military establishment wants. This is possible while a pliable Sharif Government is in office and the National Assembly’s tenure is on.
In such circumstances, it is hardly surprising that the two principal ruling parties, PPP and PML-N -- are seeking to put their respective favourites in the caretaker government and PDM convenor, Maulana Fazlur Rahman has protested at being kept out of the political huddle that took place last week in Dubai.
Analysts say the IMF consulted Khan as a public assurance that it wanted a level playing field on the political front at a time when former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is poised to return from his London exile. Also, it is bound to have consulted the army leadership as well, without going public, since the ground reality points to the military being the prime mover in Pakistan’s affairs.