Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Friday said that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) delegation, which is visiting the country for discussions on the ninth review of a $7 billion loan programme, was giving a “very tough time” to Finance Minister Ishaq Dar and his team.

“Our economic challenge at this moment is unimaginable. The conditions we have to fulfil [to complete the IMF review] are beyond imagination,” he said without elaborating.

However, the country had no choice but to implement the conditions, PM Shehbaz acknowledged. He made the comments while addressing an Apex Committee meeting in Peshawar.

The IMF delegation, headed by Nathan Porter, and the government began the make-or-break discussions on the completion of the ninth review on Tuesday. Pakistan needs to complete the review to stave off default.

The country’s reserves have depleted to a critically low level of $3.09 billion as of Jan 27, which can cover only 18 days of imports, according to Arif Habib Limited. Completing the IMF review would not only lead to a disbursement of $1.12bn but also unlock inflows from friendly countries and other multilateral lenders.

As meetings began, the IMF mission chief sounded adamant on upfront, calibrated and strong measures to bridge the daunting fiscal gap — between Rs2 trillion to Rs2.5tr.

“You don’t have any other option” was the critical message, as members of the mission engaged with the finance and power ministries led by Ishaq Dar and Khurram Das­tgir Khan, respectively, sources close to the meetings told Dawn.

The government has taken a number of measures to complete the IMF review, including lifting an unofficial price cap on the exchange rate, hiking petroleum rates by up to 16 per cent and increasing the LPG price by 30pc.

The two sides would remain focu­sed on technical-level deliberations in the first round, slated to run until Friday (today), then move on to the crucial policy-level negotiations over the next weekend until Feb 9.

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