The people of Pakistan are in the clutches of the IMF again, and as before for no fault of theirs. Blunders were committed by the economic managers of the previous government, supplemented by those of the present one that led to a steep fall in the forex reserves and caused financial crunch. The phenomenal rise in petroleum prices was beyond anybody's control but the caretakers could at least have rationalised the domestic petroleum prices on time, lightening the impact on their successors. Wheat was exported cheap, leading to shortages that compelled the present government to imports of the commodity at much higher prices. Uncertainties were generated by the way Musharraf got himself elected, imposed the state of emergency and removed the CJ. The killing of Benazir Bhutto created further doubts about the future of the system. All these factors led to a fall in investor confidence. Potential investors turned away while an outflow of capital started to take place. The PPP-led government continued for months to flip flop over the issue of judges which finally led to the break up of PPP-PML(N) alliance. Meanwhile economy was ignored till it was discovered that forex reserves were hardly enough for two months' imports. During the eight months of the present government's tenure, three economic managers were appointed one after another. Ignoring the financial crunch, government leaders continued to function in style feasting over the tax payers money. It is in this scenario that the IMF has walked in to lend money and introduce good governance which it has failed to do despite no less than ten earlier interventions. While Dr Ishrat Hussain would lead us to believe that nine interventions between 1988 and 2000 failed because of the short-sightedness of the elected governments who ruled during what he calls a "lost decade," the intervention under Musharraf also made a pretty little impact on governance. This explains why the economy collapsed in no time. The economic system nourished under the care of the IMF turned out to be so fragile that within months of the caretakers' departure $16b forex reserves dwindled to $6.8 billion, the rupee witnessed a free fall, there was a run on the banks, inflation peaked to 25 percent, while thanks to the rules formulated under PM Shaukat Aziz, billions of dollar were sent abroad. It was suddenly discovered that over 40 percent of the population lived below poverty line. It was also noted that financial institutions were weak, the growth of tax returns was slow, government expenses were rising and tax to GDP ration was as low as around 10 percent. Also that imports were double than exports and a country boasting of wheat autarky was now importing it. The IMF comes with a bitter medicine, we are told. Despite the usual bluster to cut down defence spendings, impose tax on agricultural incomes, bring the stock market racketeers and land mafia under the tax net, there is little hope the conditionalities would much effect any of the powerful lobbies which are a part and parcel of the ruling elite. Finally the common man will have to bear the brunt of the IMF prescription. Those who matter had succeeded in persuading IMF in 2002 to drop the demand to cut down defence expenditures on the ground that the armed forces were engaged in an eyeball to eyeball confrontation with India. The Fund readily agreed. Now there is a stronger argument. The armed forces are engaged in fighting the terrorists. The government has already declared it was not going to touch the defence budget. The big landlords have a strong lobby in Parliament and provincial assemblies. They Punjab MPAs have made it known that they would never agree to the taxing of their incomes from agriculture. The stock market racketeers and the land mafia are no less strong and vocal. That explains why the common man is again going to be punished for the sins of the ruling elite. As Mr Shaukat Tarin says most of the IMF requirements are already a part of the budget. Before the IMF had asked for it, the 'homegrown' budget had tightened the noose around the poor people's neck. With bank rate rising, many businesses will close down and others will reduce their activity. This would add to the number of the unemployed. With charges on water, power and gas going up to raise finances the poor will feel the pinch. Prime Minister Gilani says IMF package is needed for good governance. One wonders why an elected government should need an order from an IFC to persuade the stakeholders including the parliamentarians of the need for expanding the tax net or practicing thrift. Is it due to lack of confidence or lack of commitment or both? E-mail: azizuddin@nation.com.pk