Dar says his Senate speech on Pakistan’s nuclear programme being ‘quoted out of context’

Published March 20, 2023
Finance Minister Ishaq Dar speaking during the Senate’s session on March 16. — Screengrab from PTVParliament YouTube
Finance Minister Ishaq Dar speaking during the Senate’s session on March 16. — Screengrab from PTVParliament YouTube

Finance Minister Ishaq Dar said on Monday that his comments in the Senate on Pakistan’s nuclear programme were being “quoted out of context”, adding that the delay in the International Monetary Fund (IMF) programme was due to “technical reasons”.

Last week, Dar told the upper house of Parliament that there would be “no compromise” on the country’s nuclear and missile programme.

The remarks had come after Senator Raza 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, 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 (EFF) 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,” he said.

The finance minister also 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.”

Subsequently, PTI’s Shah Mahmood Qureshi assailed Dar for speaking on the country’s missile programme and demanded that Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif issue a policy statement on the matter.

Qureshi, a former foreign minister, expressed surprise as to why a deal with IMF was not being finalised despite the fact that Pakistan has fulfilled all the demands of the global lender.

“No one has the right to tell us what kind of nuclear programme we should have and missiles of which range we should have. We have our atomic arsenal South Asia-specific and to ensure our defence,” he said.

In the press release issued by the Ministry of Finance today, Dar said his statement on the floor of the Senate, in response to a query regarding reasons for delay in IMF programme, was being “quoted out of context”.

“My comments with regards to Pakistan’s nuclear programme were in response to a colleague Senator’s specific question, wherein, I emphasised that Pakistan has sovereign right to develop its nuclear programme, as it best suits our national interests. without any external dictation, which, by no means should in any way whatsoever be linked with the ongoing negotiations with the IMF,” he said.

“It is clarified that neither the IMF nor any country has attached any conditionality or made any demand from Pakistan with regard to our nuclear capability and the delay in IMF staff-level agreement is purely due to technical reasons, for which we are continuously engaged with the IMF in order to conclude it at the earliest,” he said.

‘Absolutely no truth’

Later in the day, IMF Resident Representative for Pakistan Esther Perez Ruiz told Dawn.com regarding recent speculation about the nuclear programme: “I want to be categoric that there is absolutely no truth to this or any insinuated link between the past or current IMF supported programmes and decisions by any Pakistani government over its nuclear programme.”

She said discussions between the IMF and Pakistan were “exclusively focused on economic policies” to solve the country’s economic and balance of payments problems, “in line with the IMF’s mandate for promoting macroeconomic and financial stability”.

She also added that “substantial progress” was achieved in discussions towards policies to underpin the ninth EFF review in recent days.

“At this point, ensuring there is sufficient financing to support the authorities in the implementation of their policy agenda is the paramount priority. A staff level agreement will follow once the few remaining points are closed,” Ruiz said.

IMF loan

Cash-strapped Pakistan is in a race against time to implement measures to reach an agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The agreement with the IMF on the completion of the ninth review of a $7bn loan programme — which has been delayed since late last year over a policy framework — would not only lead to a disbursement of $1.2bn but also unlock inflows from friendly countries.

The prerequisites by the lender are aimed at ensuring Pakistan shrinks its fiscal deficit ahead of its annual budget around June.

Pakistan has already taken most of the other prior actions, which included hikes in fuel and energy tariffs, the withdrawal of subsidies in export and power sectors, and generating more revenues through new taxation in a supplementary budget.

As a last step, the international lender has required Pakistan to guarantee that its balance of payments deficit is fully financed for the remaining period of an IMF programme.

However, diplomatic sources told Dawn earlier last week that the political situation in Pakistan had become a factor in delaying a deal with the IMF.

Sources said that global lenders, particularly the IMF, were seeking assurances from Pakistan that the future political setup in the country would respect any deal they signed with Islamabad.

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