Islamabad: Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has said that the ruling alliance was ready to sacrifice its political career for the sake of the financially-strapped country.
Addressing the launch of PM Youth Loan Scheme for Business and Agriculture’ on Tuesday, the Prime Minister also indicated that the government was finally ready to swallow the bitter pill of the International Monetary Funds “stringent” conditions to revive the loan program and it has clearly conveyed intentions to complete the ninth review to the IMF.
With political tensions escalated in Pakistan on Wednesday, he said that Pakistan has been given a clear message “from left and right” that it would not be abandoned, but it should “stitch” the IMF programme. This was an apparent reference to reports that friendly nations and other global lending institutions are looking at the fate of the programme to provide financial aid to the crash-strapped country.
“We are ready and want to sit down regarding your (IMFs) conditions so that [the review] can be concluded and Pakistan moves forward, he was quoted as saying by Dawn newspaper. “I spoke to the IMF managing director two weeks ago and we have proactively approached them so that the programme moves forward, in addition to other multilateral and bilateral programmes, he added.
Pakistan revived a stalled USD 6 billion IMF programme last year which was initially agreed upon in 2019 but is finding it hard to meet the tough conditions of the Washington-based global lender. As the economic crisis worsens, Pakistan has been making hectic efforts to convince the IMF to complete the review pending since Sept 2022 which will be followed by the release of funds. However, the strings attached to the move have been a sticking point between the global lender and Pakistan.
The conditions include the withdrawal of electricity subsidies, rationalising of gas tariffs in line with prices in the international market, market-determined exchange rate and removal of the ban on the opening of LCs.
As it enters the election year, the ruling Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) – a coalition of nearly a dozen political parties, is wary of implementing the demands as it would lead to a further surge in inflation, already clocking 24.5 per cent for December.
The economic crisis forced the government earlier this month to order shopping malls and markets to close by 8:30 pm for energy conservation purposes.
Talking about the collective responsibility to solve problems plaguing Pakistan, the Prime Minister said as Pakistanis and Muslims, the rulers should respond to the difficult situation. “The people at the helm of affairs the politicians and the rich have to set an example, as is unfair to burden the poor with price hikes while the elites and governments splurge loans,” he added.
“What legacy will we leave behind if these issues are not being addressed? It is clear that Pakistan is facing huge challenges and if we have taken responsibility, we will make all-out efforts to steer the country out of the difficulties.”
He asked political parties to shun politics at the time of crisis. “To save Pakistan, they would have to sacrifice politics.” He was apparently referring to Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf chairman Imran Khan, who was ousted as prime minister in April last year after a no-confidence motion was passed in the National Assembly. Khan is pressing for fresh general elections.
The prime minister also urged the nation to conserve resources like water, gas and electricity and help the government to reduce its import bill which had increased significantly in the past few years.
Pakistan was spending USD 27 billion on the import of oil for energy generation and it could be reduced by half if we take practical steps, the prime minister noted.
He said the loan scheme was aimed at promoting entrepreneurship among youth by providing them loans on softer terms with less markup. All Pakistanis, aged between 21 and 45 years, with entrepreneurial potential are eligible to apply for the loan under the scheme.
Under the scheme, he said, loans would be extended to young people in different categories, to provide them with an opportunity to excel in different fields. He added the government was also mulling a scheme to distribute 100,000 laptops on merit among students, according to the paper.
Pakistan is battling to fix its economic and political fissures amidst a parochial political rivalry between former premier Imran Khan and the current government.
with inputs from PTI.