- Finance minister Ishaq Dar says Pakistan hoping to conclude talks with Saudi Arabia soon on financial help
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said on Monday that the ruling coalition did not put its political capital at stake just "so that it could hold early elections", but rather to steer the country's economy on the right track by putting in the hard work required for it.
His response came during a lengthy and high-powered press conference in which a question about holding 'snap polls' was asked. The press conference featured the country's prime minister, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar along with the planning, law and information ministers.
In response to staging snap polls and if the Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK), Gilgit-Baltistan, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab governments had approached the centre for early elections, PM Shehbaz gave a brief reply. "We did not put our political capital at stake just so we could have early polls. We put it because we wanted to put the economy at the right track."
Concerns over Pakistan's economy]have increased more so in the past few months with its perceived default risk, high inflation, the prevalence of a 'black market' of foreign exchange, and pending debt payments all becoming areas of discussion.
The coalition government, which argued that it moved the no-confidence vote against former prime minister Imran Khan over his party – the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) – mishandling the economy, has now seen inflation go over 25%, and also faced difficulty in securing fresh loans amid stalled talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
However, Dar, who dismissed default concerns, also said during the press conference that Pakistan is hoping to conclude talks with Saudi Arabia soon on financial help.
"We hope that we will soon conclude talks, which we have started with Saudi Arabia," he said in response to a question about whether there was any progress on seeking financial support from the country.
Dar also said IMF had asked Pakistan for more information to finalise its ninth review.
On the simultaneous prevalence of a 'black market', Dar said the government has started a crackdown against smuggling of dollars to "a neighbouring country," which will improve the availability of foreign currency in the country.
Dar conceded that the price of the US dollar is higher by Rs10 to Rs15 in the grey market, adding that its smuggling created a shortage in Pakistan.
The finance minister said tough decisions were made during an inter-ministerial meeting last week, after which a crackdown was launched on Friday.
"The government is ready to take all-out measures to stop the smuggling of dollars, wheat, and fertilisers," he said, adding that the government will not shy away from closing down the border "if that's what it takes to stop the outflow".
He said Imran's PTI government destroyed the credibility of Pakistan by walking back on the commitments made with the IMF.
"IMF is considered as the financial doctor. No monetary organisation in the world will deal with you if you are not on track with the IMF," Dar said, adding that the PTI government left a financial landmine for the coalition government.
He said the ruling coalition made bold decisions to steer the country's economy out of the crisis that was created by the previous government.
He reiterated that Pakistan was not going to default despite the desires of some politicians.
"It's true that we are not in the ideal situation as that in 2016, but we are not going to default on debt repayment. Yes, we don't have desired foreign exchange reserves, but we are managing our payment, and I can assure you that Pakistan has never defaulted on its [foreign payment] nor will it in the future."
The finance minister said Imran did not deliver on his electoral promises and destroyed the economy.
Providing data when the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) handed over the government to PTI, Dar said inflation was between 4.6%-4.8%, the food inflation stood at 2%, GDP growth was 6.1%, the stock market was among the best-performing markets in the world, and the policy rate was at 6.5%.
Dar said the PTI government would tell investors and friendly countries that it was in a "debt trap" and that the previous governments were "corrupt".
The senator said while telling the global community that Pakistan was in a "debt trap", the PTI government expected international investors to invest their money in the country. "Who would do that?"
Daily Mail apology
At the outset of the press conference, PM Shehbaz said it was a "heartless" approach by PTI Chairman Imran and his "minions" when they got involved with Daily Mail.
"As a result of the article, Pakistan was defamed, and a message was sent to the global community that they should not send donations to the country."
He said he announced to challenge Daily Mail's as he was confident of his innocence.
"Fast forward three years, they were granted several adjournments, I received an unconditional apology from the Daily Mail," the prime minister said.
"This isn't just an apology to me, this is an apology to the 220 million people and the mothers and daughters who were affected in the floods," the premier noted.
On the contrary, PM Shehbaz said Imran sold the one-of-a-kind watch gifted by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
"I do not use the word 'fraud', but this is what Imran did. The shop owner – whose receipts that PTI showed relating to the watch – has also clarified that it is not his handwriting on the receipt," PM Shehbaz said.