• Dar says nobody can dictate what missiles, N-weapons Pakistan should have
• Rabbani laments Senate not taken into confidence on IMF conditions
• Shehbaz admits tough decisions led to unrelenting inflation

ISLAMABAD: The premier and the finance minister asserted on Thursday that there would be “no compromise” on the country’s nuclear and missile programme and they are “jealously guarded by the state”.

The statements from the top came amid concerns raised by some quarters after the visit of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) head to Pakistan last month and the government’s failure to strike a deal with IMF to resume a stalled loan programme, which would offer a critical lifeline to avert an economic meltdown.

A statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Office on Thursday noted that press releases, queries and various assertions regarding Pakistan’s nuclear and missile programme were being circulated on social and print media.

Even a “traditional routine visit” of IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi was portrayed in a “negative spotlight”, it said.

“It is emphasised that Pakistan’s nuclear and missile programme is a national asset, which is jealously guarded by the state. The complete programme is totally secure, foolproof and under no stress or pressure whatsoever,” the statement said.

“It continues to fully serve the purpose for which this capability was developed,” it added.

In a tweet later in the day, the premier said that “misleading speculations about Pakistan’s nuclear and missile programme are unfortunate”.

“The stringent, foolproof and multi-layered security safeguards, duly testified by the International Atomic Energy Agency, are in place. Our nuclear programme represents the unwavering consensus of the nation and is for deterrence,” he said.

Similarly, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar told the Senate on Thursday there would be “no compromise” on the country’s nuclear and missile programme.

He was responding to questions raised by PPP Senator Raza Rabbani over the conditions set by the IMF.

“Let me assure you that […] nobody is going to compromise anything on the nuclear or the missile programme of Pakistan — no way.”

Senator Rabbani had raised some questions on the reasons behind the delay in the agreement with the IMF, which would offer a critical lifeline to tame a balance-of-payments crisis.

The PPP leader lamented that the Senate had “neither before nor today been taken into confidence on what are the conditionalities of the IMF”.

Describing the delay as extraordinary, Senator Rabbani sought to know if the delay was being made because of some sort of pressure on the country’s nuclear programme or its strategic relationship with China or because an imperialist power wanted its presence in the region.

In response, Mr Dar assured that there would be no compromise on Pakistan’s nuclear prowess and promised that the moment the staff-level agreement and the Extended Fund Facility were finalised, it would be placed on the website of the finance ministry.

“Nobody has any right to tell Pakistan what range of missiles it can have and what nuclear weapons it can have. We have to have our own deterrence,” he said. “We represent the people of Pakistan […] and we have to guard our national interests.”

‘External financing last hurdle’

Mr Dar said that an assurance from “friendly countries” to fund a balance of payment gap was the last hurdle in securing an IMF deal.

Several countries had made commitments to support Pakistan during previous IMF reviews, he said, adding that the IMF was now asking for those commitments.

“At the time of the previous reviews, several friendly countries had made commitments to bilaterally support Pakistan, what IMF is now asking (is) that they should actually complete and materialise those commitments,” he said, adding: That’s the only delay.“

Islamabad has been hosting the IMF mission since early February to negotiate a series of policy measures for the cash-strapped economy to manage the fiscal deficit ahead of the annual budget around June.

“It has been extensive engagement, unusual, too lengthy, too long, too demanding, but we have completed everything,” Mr Dar said.

‘Bitter conditions completed’

Prime Minister Sharif, who also spoke to Senate later, said that all of the IMF’s conditions had been met.

“We’ve completed bitter, very bitter conditions of the IMF,” he told the upper house of the parliament, adding that he hoped to “have a staff level agreement soon”.

He said that “bold decisions” taken by his government led to unrelenting inflation and burdened the common person, though he expressed optimism that “good days are ahead”. He added, “There is always light at the end of the tunnel, provided you are committed to the cause.”

He insisted that the coalition government did not shy away from taking these decisions and decided to save the country at the cost of political interests.

“We took over [in April 2022] at a time when the country’s economy was facing very difficult challenges,” he said, lamenting that the previous government abandoned the agreements it had made with the money lender. This, he said, damaged Pakistan’s image, trust and confidence with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as well as other bilateral and multilateral institutions.

“And then we took over through a constitutional instrument. We had two choices — one to dole out funds like the previous regime had done, leaving nothing in the kitty and offering unaccounted and un-budgeted subsidies. The other path was showing the highest level of responsibility, maturity and statesmanship,” the premier said.

He said the coalition government then decided through a consultative process to adopt the path that “protects the state of Pakistan and will make posterity proud of us”.

Holding the PTI responsible for a delay in IMF’s staff-level agreement even after the government had accepted all tough and bitter conditions, he accused Imran Khan’s party of making all attempts to devastate the entire system in the country.

Prime Minister Sharif stressed that economic stability without political stability would remain a pipe dream. He agreed that the IMF had not pointed towards political instability in Pakistan during its talks with the government but emphasised that “they are not blind and see all that is happening”.

Published in Dawn, March 17th, 2023

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