Pakistan’s military chief has reportedly sought help from the United Sates in securing the early disbursement of an International Monetary Fund loan as the high price of energy imports pushes the cash-strapped South Asian nation to the brink of a payment crisis.
General Qamar Javed Bajwa spoke by phone to Deputy U.S. Secretary of State Wendy Sherman earlier this week and raised the issue, government sources told VOA late Friday on condition of anonymity.
Pakistan last week reached a staff-level agreement with the IMF for the revival of a multibillion-dollar bailout package. However, the deal is subject to approval by the lender’s board, which is due to meet in late August. Islamabad is expected to get about $4.2 billion under the loan program, starting with an initial tranche of about $1.2 billion.
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Asim Iftikhar Ahmad has confirmed the phone contact between Bajwa and Sherman but did not share details.
“Well, I understand conversation has taken place, but at this stage, I am not in direct knowledge of the content of this discussion,” Ahmad told a weekly news conference in Islamabad.
A State Department spokesperson in Washington would not directly confirm whether the conversion had taken place.
“U.S. officials talk to Pakistani officials regularly on a range of issues. As standard practice, we don’t comment on the specifics of private diplomatic conversations,” the spokesperson told VOA.
Nikkei Asia first reported Friday on the Bajwa-Sherman contact, saying the Pakistani military chief asked for the White House and Treasury Department to use their leverage to help speed up the release of the loan. The United States is the largest shareholder in the IMF.
“Yes,” the sources in Islamabad said when asked whether the two officials had spoken on the matter involving the IMF loan disbursement. The outcome of Bajwa’s appeal was not known immediately, however.
Critics attributed the delay in the release of the loan to Pakistan’s track record of not living up to commitments to undertake crucial economic reforms.
Late on Friday, Bajwa also spoke by phone to General Michael Erik Kurilla, the commander of the U.S. CENTCOM.
The army’s media wing in a statement quoted its chief as telling Kurilla that Pakistan “values its relations with (the) U.S. and we earnestly look forward to enhance mutually beneficial multi-domain relations based on common interests.”
The statement quoted U.S. commander as pledging “to play his role for further improvement in cooperation with Pakistan at all levels.”
The approval of the IMF program is key to Pakistan’s access to other avenues of finances for the country, including the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.
Pakistan’s central bank foreign exchange reserves have dwindled to just about $8.5 billion, barely enough to cover a few weeks of imports, and its currency has fallen to historic lows against the U.S. dollar in recent days, with inflation at its highest in more than a decade.
Shortly after negotiating the deal with the IMF, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s coalition government said it would “very soon” receive the first tranche of $1.17 billion.
But Sharif is under increasing pressure from ousted Prime Minister Imran Khan, who is demanding the government step down and hold snap general elections in Pakistan.
Khan criticized Bajwa for reaching out to Washington, saying “it is not the job of an army chief to talk to the U.S. on financial matters.” The deposed prime minister told local ARY television channel in an interview the army chief’s move had demonstrated that neither the IMF nor foreign governments trust the Shehbaz administration.
Analysts noted, however, that both civilian and military leaders in Pakistan have traditionally conducted economic dealings with Washington, citing the army’s role in Pakistani politics and foreign policy matters.
Khan alleges Shehbaz conspired with Washington to orchestrate his government’s ouster in a parliamentary vote of confidence in April, triggered in part by rising inflation. The U.S. rejects the charges.
The former prime minister indirectly also has accused the military chief of playing a role in his removal from office, charges the army rejects as politically motivated.
Khan and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party are campaigning hard to stage a comeback in the next election widely expected to be held by October. The opposition leader has organized and addressed massive anti-government public rallies across Pakistan since his ouster.