. . . . . .  




Pakistan boasts a variety of mangoes. Over four hundred types are natural, not all cultivated commercially.

There are mangoes with a distinct political flavour, like the ones grown in the 1970s at the Chinese Consulate in Karachi. Its first harvest was sent to Chairman Mao Zedong.

In 2008, the writer Mohammed Hanif introduced yet another type in his book A Case of Exploding Mangoes, a brilliant satire on the mid-air assassination of President/General M. Zia ul Haq in 1988. Its translation in Urdu was issued in 2020 and promptly confiscated by the authorities. They felt that readers of the English original were less prone to sedition.

The newest strain of mangoes are over-sweet with gratitude.

Prime minister Shehbaz Sharif, at the tail end of a telecall with Mme. Kristalina Georgieva (IMF’s Managing Director), expressed his ‘profound gratitude’ for her ‘support and assistance in materialising the Stand-by Agreement (SBA) for $3 bn.. He promised to send her a gift of the best Pakistani mangoes in appreciation of ‘her leadership and professionalism.’

The prime minister reassured her that ‘he will not tolerate an iota of violation of this agreement. This government is here till August after which an interim government will take over [which] will continue to fulfill the obligations’. He added: ‘After the elections, if the people of Pakistan re-elect his government, he is committed to turning over the economy with the help of IMF and development partners’. [Should Pakistan expect another US-sponsored Economic Advisor?]

In response, Mme. Georgieva admitted that, although the prime minister had built ‘a very convincing case’, the IMF Board recalled ‘the past trust deficit’ and reiterated its skepticism about Pakistan’s freshest undertakings. She assured her Board in an unequivocal, job-on-the-line endorsement that Pakistan would ‘deliver on its commitments…as she had personally met the prime minister and seen his seriousness to deliver.’

On 13 July, the very next day after the IMF Board meeting, the IMF Executive Director Bahador Bijani contacted FM Ishaq Dar to forestall any complacency in Islamabad. Bijani conveyed the Board’s ‘serious concerns about Pakistan’s poor track record in implementing reforms and fulfilling commitments…during the previous programme period’.

To thinking Pakistanis, this sudden rescue package of $3 bn. is akin to an inexplicable miracle. On 29 June, Pakistan was on the precipice of default. On 30 June, the IMF offered a SBA of $3 bn.  On 11 July (the day before the IMF Board meeting), two friendly countries window-dressed the State Bank’s balance sheet: the Saudis by $2 bn. and the U.A.E. $1 bn. The Chinese added their shoulder to the broken wheel of Pakistan’s economy, rolling over $5 bn. of commercial debt.  

The Government’s euphoria would have been justified had economic pundits not disclosed that during the FY 2023, under its watch, it had lost $8.3 bn. - $ 4.25 bn. in decreased foreign remittances and $4.04 bn. in diminished exports – all because it had concentrated on the IMF.  

The next nine months are crucial for Pakistan. On 12 August, the present parliament will expire. The Constitution, like nature, abhors a vacuum. An interim administration has to be appointed, charged with overseeing the forthcoming general elections - whenever.

In December last year, Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal said that ‘the next general election in the country would take place in October [2023] after the completion of a population census’. A few days ago, his colleague Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah contradicted him, asserting that the 2023 general elections ‘will be based on the last census carried out in 2017’. It should be added that Rs.34 bn. was wasted by those compiling the now redundant census.

Meanwhile, many Pakistanis between the ages of 13 and 17 at the time of the 2017 Census [numbering 22.1 m.] will now be eligible to vote. This is the very youth dividend that the PTI used to storm the streets, and planned on Election Day to crowd the polling booths.

From the latest assurances given by PM Shehbaz Sharif to the IMF, the Saudis, Chinese and UAE, he intends to be in control (overtly or covertly) into spring of next year. To fulfil his promises to them, he and his political allies in coalition would need to recalibrate the next National Assembly and ensure a government with a working majority. They cannot afford a reprise of the 2018 elections, which left PTI occupying 149 seats, PML-N 82 and PPP 54.

The next general election will be a scramble between an aggressive PML-N, a watchful PPP, a truncated PTI, and two new ex-PTI spoilers – Tareen’s IPP and Khattak’s PTI-P.  

Which of them can Mme. Georgieva trust with the remaining IMF tranches of $1.8 bn?




[DAWN, 20 July 2023]  

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20 July 2023
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