• Minister challenges Imran to live debate on economy
• Shehbaz confident of IMF agreement this month

ISLAMABAD: The prime minister and his finance czar continued to blame the previous government for all the ills that ail the country and its economy, a day after the local currency saw one of its steepest slumps, deepening the ongoing crisis.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, instead of giving any plan to rid the country of unprecedented economic crisis, told the nation that many development projects had been adversely affected by the PTI government’s incompetence.

Even Finance Minis­ter Ishaq Dar, who spoke before the premier at a ceremony in Islamabad, could only offer platitudes, saying: “Allah Almighty is responsible for the prosperity and development of Pakistan.”

The two leaders expressed these views while addressing the inauguration ceremony of the Green Line Express Train service in Islamabad.

Prime Minister Sharif said he fully expected an agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) this month, after which other multilateral lenders would also support the country to help mitigate its economic crisis.

The premier’s comments came a day after the IMF said it would send a team to Pakistan next week to discuss reviving a desperately needed bailout programme, with a foreign exchange crisis bringing imports almost to a standstill.

“This is a difficult time,” the premier acknowledged but insisted that the coalition government “is trying day and night to bring the country out of the difficult economic situation”.

Blaming the stalled projects on the PTI administration, he said the leaders of the Imran Khan-led party “accused our Chinese brothers and companies of committing corruption”, denting the decades-old fraternal relations between Pakistan and China. However, things were improving now, he said.

‘PTI legacy’

Earlier, Mr Dar, who arrived on the scene for the first time since he has been blamed for doing nothing to rescue the crippling economy, told participants at the ceremony: “If Allah can create Pakistan, He can also protect, develop and make it prosper.”

“Pakistan is the only country founded in the name of Islam and Allah is responsible for its development and prosperity,” he said, without giving any solution to how the cash-strapped country would overcome the acute balance-of-payments crisis.

Mr Dar has strongly favoured intervention in currency markets and earlier claimed that he would bring the rupee below 200 to the dollar. The local currency has now crossed 260, much higher than it was during the tenure of Mr Dar’s predecessor Miftah Ismail.

The finance minister also noted that the current government inherited several problems from the previous PTI administration and insisted that it would try its best to improve the situation.

He said the PTI had ruined the progress Pakistan had achieved during PML-N’s last government from 2013 to 2018.

The minister said that, like many other projects, the cost of the Main Line 1 (ML1) railway project had almost doubled owing to the incompetence of the previous government, which he said had failed to carry out the project according to the timeline.

“The cost of ML1 was projected at $6bn under the $46bn China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project. However, due to failure by the previous regime for not executing on time, it may cost now $11bn to $12bn,” he added.

“This is the legacy of the previous government inherited by this government,” Mr Dar said.

He said Pakistan had become the 24th largest economy in 2016, but it slipped to the 47th position last year “because of PTI’s inability”.

He said that back in 2013, the PML-N government had turned the economy around at a time when it was predicted to default within six months back.

He said that during the past tenure of his party, food inflation was just 2pc, general inflation was 4.6pc, GDP growth was recorded at 6.8pc, foreign reserves were at their peak, and the Pakistan Stock Exchange was one of the best-performing indexes in the world.

Live debate with Imran

Later, in a late-night media talk, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar lashed out at the PTI chairman and held the former prime minister responsible for the present crisis.

“We are compelled to take dictation of IMF because you [Mr Khan] have backed out sovereign commitments made with IMF for which the country is facing an acute financial crisis, inflation, unbridled dollar flight, ample foreign and local debts, etc.,” he said.

Mr Dar castigated Mr Khan for “misleading the nation” by stating “incorrect” facts regarding the previous government’s performance and challenged the former premier to a live debate on the country’s economy.

Earlier on Friday, the PTI chief had held the coalition government responsible for the country’s economic woes and compared the current setup with his government.

In response to those claims, a visibly angry Mr Dar thundered against Mr Khan, holding him to be “solely responsible” for the destruction of Pakistan’s economy.

“Imran Niazi once again lied today and tried to mislead the people,” the minister said, referring to the PTI chief’s televised address.

“His habit of lying has not gone away. Even in today’s media talk, he quoted the wrong figures […] everything he said was based on lies.

“I believe that giving these false numbers is not appropriate […] you can hold a live debate and bring the economic survey and the State Bank documents […] we can do a debate […] But don’t mislead the public like this,” the minister said.

Talking about the IMF programme, Mr Dar said that the agreement with the global lender was signed by the PTI government and that the incumbent setup had nothing to do with it.

“But when Imran realised that he was being ousted, he disowned all the agreements and left behind landmines,” he said, adding that Pakistan had only completed one IMF programme in its history, that too under the leadership of Nawaz Sharif.

Talking about Mr Khan’s claims of giving 5.5 million jobs, the minister argued that the economic survey from the PTI setup showed that only 3.3m jobs were created.

“So, Khan saheb, what have you really done? All this time, you were just busy with politics of persecution and didn’t care about the public.

“In a nutshell, you brought Pakistan’s economy down to the 47th rank. This is the reason why IMF gives us dictation today […] we are fulfilling your sovereign commitments.”

Mr Dar added that if the PTI chief called himself a leader, he should “behave like one” as well.

Published in Dawn, January 28th, 2023

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