ISLAMABAD - With the sort of reputation the IMF has acquired in the public consciousness, a backlash against the program that we are entering in with the fund is but expected. Though there might be a measure of untutored populism at play here. Even the most virulent of protestors would not be able to give an alternative strategy for getting out of the current rut we are in. Despite any possible tough conditionalities, the primary argument for entering into a program with the IMF is, of course, that there's nowhere else to turn to in the face of our rather pressing Balance of Payments problem. But if we are to listen to Shaukat Tarin, the government's principle economic mandarin, it would appear that the IMF is, in fact, not asking for much at all. He says that they have agreed to our home grown economic package. That there are no conditionalities at all. That would require a closer look. For instance, the IMF wants liberalization of the economy; we've been doing that since the 1990s. The IMF has been claiming, not incorrectly perhaps, that the rupee was overvalued; the new government has already stopped the SBP from buoying up the rupee through open market operations, leading to the rupee's slide to 80 to a dollar. The IMF has been an advocate of interest rate hikes; the recent 2 per cent hike in the discount rate is only the recent episode in the SBP's tightening drive. The IMF, in tandem with the World Bank, has been asking the government to abolish subsidies; we have already abolished certain subsidies and are set to continue on the same trajectory. It would appear that we have agreed to their demands before they made them. Is Mr Tarin putting the cart before the horse when he says that there are no conditions here? Economist Dr Qaiser Bengali says, "A lot of statements can be made for political consumption. IMF loans are rarely without conditions." Though Dr Bengali does agree that giving the Fund the touch was the only way out of the crunch. "This is not a question of good or bad. We needed this money. Good or bad is dependent on whether we are getting the money or not. We are, so it's good." Other economists, however, don't even go on to cast the IMF in a bad light in the first place. "Just what are these conditionalities that people keep talking about," asks economist and former commerce minister Dr Zubair Khan "Governments announce one thing at the time of the budget and do another later on. All that the IMF asks is for governments to stick to the discipline of announced policies." Though Dr Khan did say that "IMF involvement is essential in that there is no expertise in the Pakistani bureaucracy to deal with inflation and structural imbalances", which would imply that the IMF's role is going to have a proscriptive element, rather than a simple stay-the-course regimen. But it would be difficult to assess at this stage what those normative directives would be that would diverge from the government's planning in the first place. Having been bitten by public wrath earlier, the IMF would be a bit more cautious in letting governments disclose to the public which aspect of economic management is their idea and which is that of the recipient government's.