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Imran Khan’s biggest problem? Billions of dollars needed to pay debt worth billions

The work ahead for Pakistan’s charismatic PM-elect is winding and one that could throw an endless stream of economic bouncers on a thorny political pitch.
The mood is upbeat, the celebrations continue and hopes float freely – at least in Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf camp. The cricketer-turned-politician is all set to take oath as Pakistan’s next Prime Minister and while rival parties continue to cry foul, there is no dampening of spirits here.
The massive challenge for Imran Khan and his party though is not as much from these rival parties but from what lies ahead – inheriting an economy which is in absolute shambles.
According to certain estimates, Pakistan needs a bailout package of at least $12 billion. And it might have to turn towards International Monetary Fund (IMF) for it. The last time the country turned towards IMF was in 2013 when it got a $6.6 billion loan for a crisis of lesser proportions than the one existing now. This time though, there is no certainty that a loan is coming.
Pakistan has borrowed from IMF heavily in past decades and re-paying has not always been easy. Crumbling ties with the United States means that Imran Khan may find getting IMF’s help harder than his predecessors ever did. The US has already said it would be ‘keeping a close watch’ on any IMF loan to Pakistan for it to pay Chinese debt. This essentially means that Washington could use its clout to obstruct such help.
And help is what Pakistan needs, quite desperately.
Imports have gone through the roof, amply aided in its ascent by rising crude oil prices. The rise in exports, in comparison, have been a trickle. The previous government stated that foreign currency reserves are down to $10.3 billion – good enough to sustain imports for only two months.
So what does Imran Khan plan on doing? What can he do?
For starters, privatisation as one of the remedies is something Imran Khan had already tweeted about during the run-up to the elections. He also said that anti-graft measures and cutting back on imports could help but these are widely seen as treating an open wound with an earbud.
Dawn reports that there is also a possibility of the country turning towards China and Saudi Arabia but much like lunches, monetary aid is hardly ever free. Or free from implications.
Clearly then, the work ahead for Pakistan’s charismatic PM-elect is winding and one that could throw an endless stream of economic bouncers on a thorny political pitch.

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