“Plan C” – Pakistan turns to the IMF.

November 16, 2008

Pakistan has agreed with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on a $7.6 billion emergency loan to stave off a balance of payments crisis. 

Shaukat Tarin, economic adviser to the prime minister, said the IMF had endorsed Pakistan’s own strategy to bring about structural adjustments. The agreement is expected to encourage other potential donors, who are gathering in Abu Dhabi on Monday for a “Friends of Pakistan” conference.

The government had long delayed announcing its plans to turn to the IMF for help and President Asif Ali Zardari said in September the country did not want to seek IMF assistance. Tarin said in October that going to the IMF was “Plan C” if other lenders failed to come through.  “If we want to go to the IMF, we can … but only as a backup,” he said.

The times are clearly changing and in the midst of a financial crisis that has swept away some of the world’s most august financial institutions, there is no shame in admitting a need for help.

For that matter, I can remember former IMF Managing Director Michel Camdessus declaring confidently at one of the annual IMF meetings I covered in Washington in the mid 1990s that Keynsianism was dead. I challenged him at the time over his certainty, but wish I could ask the same question now that western economies are spending their way out of trouble like there’s no tomorrow.

But what will it mean for Pakistan that its new government, less than a year after elections that ushered in a new civilian democracy, has had to eat its words and turn to the IMF for help?

Does it bring to Pakistan the silver lining that it offered India, which when forced to accept an IMF bailout in the early 1990s began a programme of economic reforms?  As noted in an earlier post,  India as a result began dismantling decades of licence raj and never really looked back. 

And why did Pakistan’s closest allies, including the United States, Saudi Arabia and China, let it down by leaving it to turn to the IMF for help? As discussed in an earlier post, China, with $2 trillion in foreign exchange reserves, was in a strong position to step in to head off what could turn into a deeply unpopular move.  Traditionally seen by Pakistan as its most reliable friend, China appears to have decided that an IMF programme was the best medicine.

A new beginning? Or another source of instability?

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