The Talks Begin | Editorial

No better reminder of the stakes involved than the fact that the rupee was touching 200 to the dollar in the open market just as Pakistan-IMF talks were beginning in Doha. The capital markets have so far delivered a resounding vote of no-confidence in this government’s ability to steer the economy out of the immediate balance of payments crisis with equities and the currency tanking and bond yields rising multiple percentage points above the benchmark interest rate. And after a week of one record low after another for the rupee, it seems the only way to put some sort of floor under it is to revive the Extended Fund Facility (EFF).

But that would’ve been much easier if PM Shahbaz Sharif hadn’t overruled the finance ministry by keeping oil prices capped for at least another fortnight. The stock market would have celebrated, the rupee would’ve pared some of its losses, and international financial markets would have already begun pricing in a positive outcome of the talks. Now, though, the anxiety and confusion are lingering just because the PML-N led government does not have the political strength to upset the masses by taking a hugely unpopular but extremely necessary decision.

For some reason, though, Finance Minister Miftah Ismail, who had very recently called to remove the controversial subsidies, went into the meeting with optimism about finding some sort of “middle ground” with the Fund. While nothing could be better, this does give the impression that he wasn’t paying much attention when the previous administration tried and failed to do just such things; and everybody suffered as a result. It’s crystal clear, for all intents and purposes, that the IMF is not going to accept any subsidies that burden reserves beyond a certain point. It’s also pretty clear that nobody else will lend to us either if the IMF will not. Therefore, it couldn’t be any clearer that we need to bite the bullet and raise petrol and electricity prices right now.

By refusing to accept this reality, the government will have only itself to blame when it ultimately caves in and gets battered in the war of narratives.​

Source: Published in daily times

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