Shehbaz to IMF: Pause in pressing for conditions, can’t burden the poorest

As the government finds itself in a straightjacket thanks to the IMF conditions, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif asked the world’s top lender for a pause in its demands for implementing the conditions before releasing more financial aid.

The call came as the country received over $10 billion in pledges at the ‘International Conference on Climate Resilient Pakistan’, hosted jointly by Pakistan and the United Nations.

Speaking to reporters on Monday, Shehbaz said he was trying to persuade the IMF to give Islamabad some breathing space as it tackles the “nightmarish” situation.

The global lender wants Pakistan to withdraw remaining subsidies on petroleum products and electricity, aimed at helping the masses. “Even before these floods hit Pakistan, we were already facing humongous challenges,” he said.

“Yet we had to again connect with the IMF and resurrect an agreement which was violated by the previous government — and accept even harsher conditionalities,” Shehbaz said.

He said Pakistan was complying with the IMF’s conditions “as best as possible” but asked “how on earth” the additional burdens could be shouldered by the country’s poorest.

“Yet, we are committed to IMF’s programme. We will do everything to comply with the terms and conditions. Though I am constantly trying to persuade them: please give us a pause,” he said.

The prime minister had earlier also spoke with IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva on Saturday and asked her to “kindly be considerate and compassionate and give us some breathing space”.

“This is an ongoing dialogue. I’m sure one day soon we will be able to convince them thro­u­gh logic and through facts. That said, regardless, we will comply with the IMF programme.”

Earlier, Shehbaz told the conference his country was “racing against time” to deal with towering needs. “I am asking for a sustained international support plan. I am asking for a new lifeline,” he said.

He added the flooding immediately affected 33 million people, destroyed more than 2 million homes and damaged over 8,000km of roads and 3,100km of railway track.

“This is the greatest climate disaster in our country’s history,” agreed Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, decrying the “colossal calamity.”

Federal Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal said the Post-Damage Needs Assessment — conducted jointly by the Government of Pakistan, World Bank, ADB, the EU and UN relief agencies — had estimated the aggregate cost of the calamity at $30.1bn.

Ishaq Dar

Also on Monday, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar met with World Bank Vice-President Martin Raiser on the sidelines of the conference.

He appreciated the financial and technical support exte­n­ded by the World Bank to cope with the challenge posed by the floods, the Ministry of Finance said in a tweet.

Dar also held a meeting with IMF Mission Chief to Pakistan Nathan Porter, Islamic Development Bank President Muhammad Al-Jasser and USAID Deputy Administrator Isobel Coleman.

UN Secretary-General

“No country deserves to end­ure what happened to Pak­istan,” UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres told the international conference in Geneva, which is seeking billions of dollars to support recovery from the disaster.

Guterres said Pakistan and its people responded to “this epic tragedy with heroic humanity”. “We must match the heroic response of the people of Pakistan with our own efforts and massive investments to strengthen their communities for the future,” he told the conference.

The UN chief said Pakistan’s “monsoon on steroids” proved the need for the agreement reached at the climate summit (COP27) in November to create a “loss and damage” fund, which is aimed at covering the climate-related destruction endured by developing nations less responsible for global warming than wealthy polluters.

“If there is any doubt about loss and damage, go to Pakistan,” he said. “There is loss. There is damage.”

Ahead of the conference, Achim Steiner, head of the UN development agency, had said that Pakistan would face “extraordinary amounts of misery” if the world did not step up and help.

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