IMF to talk to Pakistan parties including Imran Khan’s party on bailout deal

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The International Monetary Fund will seek the support of Pakistan’s political parties, including former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s party, for a recently announced $3 billion bailout program, as the country prepares for national elections, the lender said on Friday.

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The new bailout program, a nine-month stand-by arrangement, will be taken up for approval by the IMF board on July 12, and replaces a four-year Extended Financing Facility program, originally signed by Khan’s government in 2019, and which expired last month.

The IMF’s resident representative Esther Perez Ruiz said in a statement that the meetings with political parties were to “seek assurances of their support for the key objectives and policies under a new IMF-supported program ahead of the approaching national elections.”

Pakistan’s national elections are scheduled to be held by early November amidst a charged political atmosphere that has seen Khan, the country’s main opposition leader, in a bruising standoff with the government and the powerful military.

Khan’s government deviated from agreements under an earlier IMF program days before he was ousted in a parliamentary vote last year, leading to a delay in the implementation of the program and increased economic uncertainty.

The new program will span three governments - the incumbent set up under Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, whose term ends in August, a caretaker administration that will conduct the polls, and then a new government following the elections.

The IMF will meet Khan at his house in the eastern city of Lahore on Friday, his party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI), confirmed.

The meeting is the highest profile engagement for Khan since he was ousted from power less than four years into his five-year term.

Hammad Azhar, a former finance minister under Khan, said in a post on Twitter that the party was being approached by the IMF to “solicit the party’s support” for the new program and its broad objectives.

Despite being the country’s most popular leader according to polls, Khan faces the prospect of being disqualified from the elections if found guilty in any of the cases against him since his removal from power.

He says the cases are a bid to sideline him and dismantle his party before the polls. The government and military deny this, and say the cases are on merit.

The government launched a country-wide crackdown on the party in the aftermath of violent protests that followed Khan’s brief arrest in May. The protests saw military installations ransacked. Khan was later released on bail.

Many of Khan’s key aides remain under arrest and many others, like Azhar, are in hiding. Azhar said some of PTI’s economic team members would attend the meeting virtually.

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