One must tip the hat to Finance Minister Asad Umar for finally proving his detractors wrong – and how! Little over two months into his role at the helm of the finance ministry, the staunchest criticism against him thus far has been his detachment from ground realities and inability to read the actual problems at hand, in turn being oblivious to the solutions. With his latest statement, the finance minister has proven that it was his critics who were detached and oblivious.

“This will be the last IMF programme,” he said while addressing an event at Pakistan Stock Exchange on Saturday. Not only would that have resulted in dominos of sighs across the country, the three magical words – last IMF loan – would’ve categorically addressed the gravest economic concern facing the country as things stand: the number of IMF bailouts.

We as a nation have collectively been mulling, and dreading, the number of IMF loans that are going to follow after this one more than anything else. Because of course that is what matters to us right now, and not the impact that this ostensibly last IMF loan would have on us.

Of course the greatest problem with loans of any kind is that they have to be paid back. And the greatest problem with paying back is that the same money cannot be used for activities that, for instance, do not involve paying back.

The radius of the fiscal pie was discussed last week, and hence the dimensions of the slice being carved out for debt servicing might also concern some people. But of course those needn’t be paid much heed given that the head of the most striking economic problem has been hit decisively with an austere hammer.

Now that Asad Umar has confirmed that his is the last IMF loan, people should stop wondering why there was so much hostility towards the very idea of going to the IMF – and so much scorn being hurled at the predecessors for doing the same – and why nobody is killing themselves, at least idiomatically.

What this also means that the increase in prices – most notably fuel which makes everything else expensive – the volatility of the stock market, the troubles that Pakistani bonds would face, and the rise in debt that accompanies the rupee fall, should now be irrelevant questions.

The fact that Brent crude price is expected to rise next month when the sanctions on Iran kick in – not to mention the ongoing conflict centered around Saudi Arabia’s killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, which could make oil prices go haywire – should not concern Pakistan at all.

Probably the most irrelevant question would be whether this IMF bailout would “cost the country 1.2 million jobs” considering now that it’s the last one. A close second would be why ‘friendly countries’ have constantly been thrown in the media – as recently as five days ago in PM Imran Khan’s press conference – when this last loan was seemingly inevitable.

What is pivotal henceforth are discussions and deliberations centring on how this last IMF loan is a blessing that the incumbent government has bestowed upon the nation.

Although it needs to be noted that ‘last’ here is open ended, and doesn’t specify the duration as to how long this last will last.

Is it the last bailout in 2018? Last bailout with Asad Umar as the finance minister? Last bailout under the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf government? Last bailout till the next rupee plunge? Or the last bailout till Pakistan with its current economic superstructure exists?

Also, it needs to be reiterated why the fact that it’s the last bailout is important: this would be the 13th bailout sought by Pakistan from the IMF.

Now, some consider the number 13 to be unlucky, but the PTI government has already reaffirmed that it is a lucky charm for Pakistan and also the last government to rule the country – till the next one takes over.

 

The writer is a Lahore-based journalist.