For a change, our federal ministers seem to be doing their homework and, unlike their predecessors, are speaking the truth in describing the gravity of crisis left behind by the last two outgoing regimes. It is a huge legacy of the past 14 years of dictatorship and kleptocracy that, perhaps, no government anywhere in the world, not even in war times, could have been left with. And yet, we expect miracles from a government that has hardly been in office for less than a month. The other day, Minister for Planning and Development Ahsan Iqbal forthrightly admitted that “there would be no free lunch and conditions would have to be accepted to get foreign loans.” Alluding to the inevitability of an IMF bailout package, he rightly warned the people that our resource constraint warranted “a delicately balanced walk between tough decisions and political stability” if the economy is to be steered out of its crisis mode. Finance Minister Ishaq Dar too has been explaining the financial difficulties of his government to justify this year’s budget as a “bitter-pill” necessity. But he claims the IMF “dictation” will not be acceptable. His confidence is laudable, but the fact is that the IMF never gives dictation. It only lends money on its conditions whenever it is approached by any member country with serious balance of payments problems, not earning enough foreign currency through exports or provision of services to pay for its imports. This criteria itself is an eye-opener for any borrower country. Instead of begging and borrowing, it should be focusing more on how to increase its exports and substitute imports by producing more goods and creating more services. A country like ours with abundant resources of its own should never have to go to the IMF. The IMF has its statutory requirements laid down in “Washington Consensus” to expect from its borrowers a set of structural reforms, including subsidy and taxation reforms that generate higher revenues needed for their faster economic consolidation. The borrower countries are also obliged to undertake policy reforms aimed at overcoming their balance of payments problems. Loans are disbursed in instalments and payment is tied to the countries' compliance with the structural adjustment policies. This is the sum total of the IMF wheel. If we want to ride it, the decision is entirely ours. Indeed, there is no free lunch. No foreign support, bilateral or multilateral, is unconditioned. There is no concept of ‘charity’ in international monetary dealings. In fact, the very concept of foreign aid is predicated on “mutually convergent obligations” of donor and recipient countries inherent in their political, economic, moral, social and now strategic priorities. Beggars can never be the choosers. The only way to escape IMF conditionalities is to keep distance, as India does, from the exploitative Bretton Woods Institutions (BWI). One is instantly reminded of the relevance of Surraiya Multanikar’s famous song opening lines: “Baray be murawwat hain yeh husn walay;     Kaheen dil laganay ki koshish na karna.” In Greek mythology, Deioneus had a choice to decline an invitation by his son-in-law Ixion to a feast at Larissa, but he opted to go there and was pushed into a bed of burning coal and wood. For a country like ours, which does not have foreign currency reserves sufficient enough to cover even one month’s imports, the IMF conditionalities are bound to be harsh. We are already a ‘basket’ case and have even been described in successive global ratings as “junk territory” - meaning a country with no trust or credibility among world lenders and investors. Can the IMF salvage us? Yes, only if we change our governance patterns and opt for economic discipline and self-reliance.There is nothing unusual with aid-related conditionalities. Even the famous Marshall Plan had its conditionalities to ensure the requisite oversight and accountability. In terms of conditionalities, the donor and recipient always do lot of homework to evolve the needed convergence of mutual obligations. It now remains to be seen what homework is done by Finance Minister Dar’s economic team for a deal with the IMF. The negotiations are already said to be in crucial final phase. Surely, if there are any conditions that ignore our socio-economic peculiarities and we cannot accept them, we always have the option to decline the IMF package. The question, however, is: whether as a borrower we have been faithful in adhering to our own commitments in the past? If memory serves us well, no IMF prescriptive measures have ever produced the desired results because we never implemented them. One had thought the last IMF Standby Arrangement would bring some structural changes in our rotten system. The loans we received were linked to stringent conditionalities and policy benchmarks, including reduced borrowings and government spending and new taxes. But the then government never changed its habits. It kept borrowing and printing money with no control over the deteriorating macroeconomic situation. With adverse security developments, high oil and food prices and global financial turmoil our crisis further aggravated. We just had no financial managers to redress the situation. The then government remained obsessed with “foreign money” and kept running after elusive “Friends of Pakistan”. Any new IMF programme for Pakistan, like the earlier ones, would inevitably warrant redressing the economic mismanagement and macroeconomic imbalances. No matter how stringent the IMF conditions are, they are for our own good and can be negotiated with some dignity and honour. The alternative of going to individual countries shamelessly begging for money in the name of ‘friendship’ is even worse than standing in Kalma Chowk and knocking every passing car’s window for help. The lessons for the new government are clear. Our problems are those of pathetically poor governance, absence of the rule of law, endemic corruption, and non-existent institutionalised development strategy. There is no law and order in the country. Let us put our house in order. Loot and plunder of national exchequer must stop. Our problems are all at home. Their solutions are also at home, not in Riyadh, Dubai, Beijing, London or Washington. The system that breeds corruption, tax evasion, kleptocracy, abuse of power, lavish governmental spending, a VIP culture, and violence and lawlessness will have to be rooted out from our body politic. We need larger cuts in governmental spendings. In fact, the Prime Minister’s gesture of budgetary cuts in his own office should have been emulated by all other ministries. The Foreign Office should take the lead by closing some of the redundant missions and posts abroad. We must return to genuine economic discipline before asking the people to be ready to swallow the IMF bullet. 

nThe writer is a former foreign secretary.