IF this government’s political record were to be described as dark comedy, its economic management would be a daytime soap opera centred on a bad romance with the IMF. Will they; won’t they? Nobody seems able to make up their minds. One wonders what Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif recently whispered in the IMF’s ears that he was able to so earnestly proclaim on Monday that Pakistan remains “very hopeful” of a deal before the month is out. Just days ago, the finance ministry and the lending agency had been bickering: the IMF had suggested it may not loosen its purse strings if political stability was not achieved “in line with the Constitution and the rule of law”, which prompted an angry pushback from Q-Block. To ramp up the tension, someone then ‘leaked’ to the press that the government had decided to forego the stalled programme after all, and may consider negotiating a new one once the fiscal year lapses. Meanwhile, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar made a dramatic re-entry after his mystery hiatus to reassure observers that Pakistan was certainly not — never, ever — going to default, no matter what globally respected ratings agencies and economists say. The confidence left many marvelling at his boundless optimism: it was truly a wonder that Mr Dar could see a silver lining in the dumpster fire that is Pakistan’s economy these days.
The prime minister now wants everyone to believe that a deal is once again within reach. Perhaps it would have been easier to take him seriously had the matter not already become a running gag. Mr Sharif, as leader of the opposition, had once remarked that “beggars can’t be choosers”. Since then, his government has managed to force most of our industries to their knees simply because it has repeatedly failed to address fundamental issues and concerns raised by its most important creditor. How long must this dog and pony show go on?
Published in Dawn, June 8th, 2023