Pakistan’s military leader has reportedly asked for US help in securing early disbursement of an International Monetary Fund loan as high energy import prices push the cash-strapped South Asian nation to the brink a payment crisis.
General Qamar Javed Bajwa spoke by phone with US Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman earlier this week and raised the issue, government sources told VOA Friday night on condition of anonymity.
Pakistan reached a staff-level deal with the IMF last week to revive a multi-billion dollar bailout. However, the deal is subject to approval by the lender’s board of directors, which is due to meet at the end of August. Islamabad is expected to get about $4.2 billion under the loan program, starting with an initial tranche of about $1.2 billion.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Asim Iftikhar Ahmad confirmed telephone contact between Bajwa and Sherman but did not share details.
“Well, I understand that a conversation took place, but at this stage, I don’t know directly the content of that discussion,” Ahmad told a weekly news conference in Islamabad.
A State Department spokesperson in Washington did not directly confirm whether the conversion took place.
“US officials speak regularly with Pakistani officials on a range of issues. As standard practice, we do not comment on the details of private diplomatic conversations,” the spokesperson told VOA.
Nikkei Asia The Bajwa-Sherman contact first reported on Friday, saying the Pakistani military leader had asked the White House and the Treasury Department to use their influence to help expedite the release of the loan. The United States is the main shareholder of the IMF.
“Yes,” the sources in Islamabad replied when asked if the two officials had spoken on the issue of disbursement of the IMF loan. However, the outcome of Bajwa’s appeal was not immediately known.
Critics blamed the delay in releasing the loan on Pakistan’s failure to meet its pledges to undertake crucial economic reforms.
Late Friday, Bajwa also spoke by telephone with General Michael Erik Kurilla, the commander of US CENTCOM.
The military’s media wing in a statement quoted its chief as telling Kurilla that Pakistan “appreciates its relationship with (the) United States and we look forward to strengthening the mutually beneficial multi-domain relationship on the basis of ‘common interest”.
The statement quotes the US commander pledging “to play its part to further improve cooperation with Pakistan at all levels”.
IMF program approval is key to Pakistan’s access to other sources of financing for the country, including the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.
Pakistan’s central bank’s foreign exchange reserves have fallen to around $8.5 billion, barely enough to cover a few weeks of imports, and its currency has fallen to historic lows against the US dollar in recent days. , with inflation at its highest in more than a decade. .
Shortly after negotiating the deal with the IMF, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s coalition government said it would receive the first tranche of $1.17 billion “very soon”.
But Sharif is under increasing pressure from ousted Prime Minister Imran Khan, who is demanding that the government resign and hold a snap general election in Pakistan.
Khan criticized Bajwa for reaching out to Washington, saying “it’s not an army chief’s job to talk to the United States about financial matters.” The ousted prime minister told local TV channel ARY in an interview that the army chief’s decision demonstrated that neither the IMF nor foreign governments trust the Shehbaz administration.
Analysts noted, however, that civilian and military leaders in Pakistan have traditionally conducted economic relations with Washington, citing the military’s role in Pakistani politics and foreign policy issues.
Khan alleges that Shehbaz conspired with Washington to orchestrate the ouster of his government in a parliamentary confidence vote in April, triggered in part by rising inflation. The United States denies the charges.
The former prime minister also indirectly accused the military leader of playing a role in his removal, accusing the military of dismissing political motives.
Khan and his Pakistani Tehreek-e-Insaf party are campaigning hard to stage a return to the next widely expected elections in October. The opposition leader has organized and spoken at massive public rallies against the government across Pakistan since his ousting.