Finance Minister Ishaq Dar lost his cool with a reporter at the Parliament House on Thursday after being questioned about the completion of the stalled International Monetary Fund (IMF) programme.
After addressing a National Assembly session, Dar, flanked by his security guards, was departing the Parliament building when a reporter — identified as Shahid Qureshi — asked him some questions.
A video of the incident, shared by the journalist in question, shows Dar going down the stairs as Qureshi asked him: “Dar sahib, will you talk today?”
The minister replied, “I just came out [of the NA] after speaking so much.”
At that, the journalist enquired if the IMF deal was “happening” and referred to Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s meeting with the IMF chief today, which took place on the sidelines of a summit in Paris. However, Dar remained silent.
Qureshi then asked the reason for the government’s failure to secure the deal, to which the finance minister said, “Because people like you are in the system.”
In his defence, the reporter said “we are not in the system” and “we just ask questions”. At that point, Dar, who had reached the parking lot by that time, turned around angrily towards the journalist.
“What do you want?” Dar asked the reporter and told him to “fear the God”.
“Why are you fighting, sir?” Qureshi responded, after which the minister’s security personnel intervened and escorted him towards the vehicle.
Later, the reporter released another video in which he detailed the entire incident.
“Today, immediately after the finance minister exited the NA, I was standing there. As a reporter and journalist who covers the economy beat, I asked him why the agreement with the IMF had not been finalised yet,” Qureshi said.
“Initially, he [Dar] said he had spoken in the Parliament but I said I wanted to talk about the IMF … as soon I proceeded to question him, Ishaq Dar’s security guards were told to stop me.
“They grabbed me from both sides after which Ishaq Dar slapped me,” the journalist claimed, adding that he had recorded the entire incident.
“While leaving, Dar told his security officers to follow me and teach me a lesson … those officers followed me till I reached the second floor of the Parliament after which I went to the PRA office and have now reached the Press Gallery,” Qureshi added.
Following the incident, the Parliamentary Reporters Association (PRA) issued a condemnation.
The statement said senior parliamentary reporter Qureshi faced “violence by Ishaq Dar’s guards” and “disrespectful behaviour”, which the association “strongly condemns”.
The association demanded that Dar apologises to the reporter, adding that there should not be a repeat of “aggressive behaviour” by Dar in the future.
“If Dar does not apologises, the PRA reserves the right to walk out of the budget session and protest,” the statement read.
The association also demanded that National Assembly Speaker Raja Pervaiz Ashraf also takes notice of the incident.
Talks with IMF
Today’s incident comes as Pakistan’s ninth review by the IMF under the 2019 Extended Fund Facility (EFF) for the release of $1.2 billion remains pending with less than 10 days remaining till the programme’s expiry on June 30.
Last week, the IMF had raised several issues with Pakistan’s budget for fiscal year 2024, saying that some of the proposed measures went against the EFF programme’s conditionality.
Esther Perez Ruiz, IMF representative for Pakistan, had earlier said Pakistan needed to satisfy the IMF on three counts, including the budget for the upcoming fiscal year, before its board will review whether to release the pending tranche.
With the programme’s expiry just days away and the IMF seemingly unconvinced with the budget, fears that the deal will not materialise have soared.
For its part, the government responded to the IMF’s concerns, saying that it was “flexible” on the budget and remained engaged with the international lender to reach an “amicable solution”.
With reserves at critical levels for the past several months, Pakistan is in dire need of an IMF bailout, without which it may default.
The country was expected to get around $1.2 billion from the lender in October last year as part of the EFF’s ninth review. But almost 8 months later, that tranche has not materialised as the IMF says Pakistan has been unable to meet important prerequisites.
Because of this delay, the programme’s tenth review, which was originally part of the plan, is all but out of the question.
Earlier today, the prime minister met the IMF chief and apprised the global lender of steps taken to address Pakistan’s flailing economy, expressing hope that the funds allocated under the lender’s Extended Fund Facility (EFF) would be released as soon as possible.