Pakistani military chief asks for US help in unlocking IMF loan

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ISLAMABAD — The powerful Pakistani military chief has contacted Washington, asking for US help in securing the advance payment of a crucial $1.7 billion payout from the International Monetary Fund to his country, which is struggling with a crisis. worsening economy, Pakistani officials said on Saturday.

According to several government officials, General Qamar Javed Bajwa discussed the issue with US Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman, calling on Washington to use its influence with the IMF to help Pakistan.

The call was a rare attempt by the army chief. Pakistan’s relations with the United States have been troubled in recent years, mainly over the issue of neighboring Afghanistan, now ruled by the Taliban.

Relations have remained particularly strained under former prime minister Imran Khan, who was ousted in a no-confidence vote in parliament in April. However, the Pakistani military, which has directly ruled the country for more than half of its 75-year history, worked closely with the United States and was an official ally in the war on terror against al- Qaeda.

Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry confirmed on Friday that Bajwa and Sherman had spoken.

“I understand that (the) conversation took place, but at this stage I do not have direct knowledge of the content of this discussion,” said ministry spokesman Asim Iftikhar.

Officials who spoke to The Associated Press on Saturday said the discussion focused on the IMF loan. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Pakistan and the IMF originally signed the bailout deal in 2019. But the release of a $1.7 billion tranche has been on hold since earlier this year when the IMF expressed concern over compliance. by Pakistan of the terms of the agreement under Khan.

Khan’s successor, Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif, and his government struck a preliminary deal with the IMF earlier this month to reinvigorate the bailout. This agreement was subject to the approval of the fund’s board of directors.

Pakistan had hoped for a quick relaunch of the bailout, but the IMF has so far failed to release the much-needed disbursement, possibly prompting Bajwa to call Washington. It was still unclear what U.S. officials could do to speed up the bailout process.

There was no immediate comment from Washington on the phone call.

Bajwa also spoke by telephone with the head of US Central Command in the Middle East, General Michael Kurilla, on Friday, according to a military statement. He quoted Kurilla as saying he appreciated the role played by Pakistan in the stability of the region and expressing hope for further improvement of cooperation with Pakistan.

Pakistan desperately needs the IMF loan. Earlier in July, the fund announced it would increase the value of the bailout from $6 billion to $7 billion, if approved by its board of directors, generally considered a formality.

Sharif has repeatedly blamed the former prime minister’s government, alleging that Khan – a former cricket star turned Islamist politician – deliberately breached IMF terms in order to remain popular among his supporters back home.

Analysts say the IMF’s bailout stimulus will help Pakistan and encourage other international financial institutions to engage with the South Asian country.

Sharif’s government has also been in touch with Washington over the relaunch of the IMF bailout. Since his ouster, Khan has repeatedly claimed that his government was overthrown by a US conspiracy, a charge Washington denies.

Since Khan’s ouster, Pakistan’s currency has fallen to historic lows amid uncertainty over IMF aid. The rupee slipped to a record high of around 240 against the dollar last weekend. Previously, the dollar was selling for 225 rupees.

The constant decline of the currency of this Islamic nation has caused panic among its business community. Rising food prices and inflation have made the Sharif government, which is now four months in power, very unpopular.

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