It seems that Pakistan has been the victim of two unfortunate incidents during the visit of the IMF review mission which was to conduct policy-level talks with the Pakistani Finance Ministry team, after the technical talks that concluded on Tuesday. The first was the Supreme Court ordering the arrest of Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf for investigation of his actions when Water and Power Minister, the second was the long march on Islamabad, and the subsequent sit-in, by Tehrik Minhajul Quran chief Dr Tahirul Qadri. Already wary enough of Pakistan to bring along its own security officer, the team wants to consult with the UN about the status of the present government, and may return to New York in a couple of days instead of staying until January 22, until when it is supposed to conduct policy-level talks which involve setting targets for the next three fiscal years.

The IMF might well have to negotiate under less than ideal conditions, but Raja Ashraf is not just doubtful because his government might be falling, which would mean that any agreement it made would not be valid, and subject to negotiation by a successor government. Until he is proved innocent of any wrongdoing, the IMF would be within its rights to assume that the money it might lend would be misused. As the IMF is part of the Washington Consensus, it is a safe assumption that it would regard obedience of the American political agenda as more important than any economic criteria. The extreme measures which the mission is taking must be taken to indicate American dissatisfaction rather than anything else. Though the review mission may find the government doubtful, it seems that would be the least of its concerns if the loan was not made.

It is also unfortunate that at a time when greater transparency in government is being called for in elections, the government’s financial operations are so shrouded in secrecy that the decision to take a fresh IMF loan has apparently been made, and that too without any disclosure of the conditionalities. As previous experience has shown, not just in Pakistan, but also other countries, IMF conditionalities involve a lot of human suffering, and seem designed to be anti-people. At the same time, decisions are based on political, rather than economic, criteria. The decision to go back to New York should be taken as an opportunity, not a setback, and the government should rethink its strategy of unrestrained spending on the basis of borrowed money, and instead resort to cutting its expenditures.