The lend game

Following the $6.2-billion bailout package delivered by Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Crown Prince of the United Arab Emirates, Pakistan perhaps has run out of brotherly nations giving away brotherly bailout packages, consisting primarily of brotherly deferred payments.

Even so, with the current account deficit crossing $15 billion, and another $12 billion owed in debt repayment, Islamabad would need a brotherly package from a whole new planet to erase all that it owes others.

Since that mightn’t happen any time soon, what one assumes is that those at the helm of the economy – if someone, indeed, is occupying such a physical position – would eventually acquiesce to an inadvertently International Monetary Fund (IMF) package, given that Islamabad can now more easily avail its quota given the economic brotherhood on display.

However, Federal Finance Minister Asad Umar says that Pakistan won’t be going to the IMF “for now”, with a mini-budget set to be announced next week.

Now, technically, “now” will precede any moment in time that is yet to transpire. Hence, maybe what the good minister was trying to say is that Pakistan will be going to the IMF in a couple of months, a few weeks, or maybe Thursday. For, any interpretation of now that extends beyond this period would not only be delaying the inevitable it would also be mustering the evitable.

The government’s indecision on the economy front, and more specifically on the IMF question, has gone beyond the realm of procrastination or even downright laziness. Asad Umar is spearheading the most agonising ‘will he, won’t he’ in recent economic memory, made all the more excruciating by the fact that he definitely will.

Is the government engaging in populist politics five months into taking over? Snap election? Is that the lend game?

Maybe the issue is with the IMF seeking transparency over Pakistan’s dealing with the most brotherly of friends and their playing corridor? Maybe that’s why the big brother got upset in September when it was floated that certain agreements be reconsidered.

But yes, IMF reforms can be dangerous for Islamabad. They might do the repair work that might actually mean that Pakistan in the future could take baby steps towards being more economically independent and self-sufficient.

If such a situation arises who will bail Pakistan out? Will the lack of such a dependency not impact Islamabad’s brotherly relations and the brothers’ need for Pakistan?

After all, the generous Arab money that has been flown into the country is owing to such a need, which the country will repay in towing certain lines in the Middle East. Now, given the region, those are actually the fault-lines that extrapolate well into Pakistan.

So much happening and one doesn’t really know where to go with all the questions that one has. After all, one could be speaking to someone for weeks only to find out that they are actually not the government’s spokesperson on economy and energy.

It’s a shame though that those in the media are criticising the current regime for censorship given how just about anybody can go and attend economic advisory meeting with the Prime Minister and Finance Minister.

However, it’s all well that people can sit and attend high level meetings, but the government should make sure proper ID cards or employment letters are issued to those actually being tasked with giving advice and more importantly those being tasked with taking action on the economy.

One would definitely advise Asad Umar to keep all such IDs and documents with him at all times, lest there be confusion over whose responsibility it is to take decisions on economic matters – if such a job description does exist of course.


The writer is a Lahore-based journalist.


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