• Tuesday, May 28, 2024

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Pakistan’s deepening political crisis douses hopes for IMF relief

The turmoil since Imran Khan was ousted just more than a year ago has scarred the country’s economy and markets

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party activists and supporters of former Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran clash with police amid teargas during a protest against the arrest of their leader, in Peshawar on May 9, 2023. Former Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan was arrested on May 9, police said, during a court appearance for one of dozens of cases pending since he was booted from office last year. (Photo by Abdul MAJEED / AFP) (Photo by ABDUL MAJEED/AFP via Getty Images)

By: Chandrashekar Bhat

The political crisis engulfing Pakistan is eroding hopes that the south Asian country can get its much needed programme with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) back on track soon and escape a full-blown debt crunch, analysts said.

Deadly clashes between supporters of Imran Khan and police spread across the country after Pakistan’s anti-corruption agency arrested the former prime minister on Tuesday (9).

The rupture in Pakistan’s febrile politics comes as the 230-million-population nation prepares to hold tightly fought elections in the autumn while facing its worst economic crisis in decades, with dwindling reserves and a stalled $6.5 billion IMF programme that is expiring in June and scarce other financing sources in sight.

“With protesters on the streets, the IMF will be even more wary about restarting the loan deal,” said Gareth Leather, senior economist for Emerging Asia at Capital Economics.

The turmoil since Khan was ousted just more than a year ago has scarred the country’s economy and markets.

Pakistan’s rupee has lost nearly 50 per cent over the past 12 months. The main stock index has suffered a double-digit decline over the same period.

On Wednesday (10), the rupee tumbled some two per cent to a fresh record low of 290 to the dollar. The country’s international bonds, already in deeply distressed territory of as little as 32 cents, dropped more than a cent in the dollar on the day.

While noisy politics generating volatility was nothing new for Pakistan and its investors, they “really complicated the discussion with the IMF”, said Cathy Hepworth, head of emerging market debt at PGIM Fixed Income, which holds Pakistan bonds.

“It just delays and complicates decisions.”

Time is ticking down. Nearly 100 days have passed since the last IMF staff level mission to Pakistan and the two sides have yet to strike a preliminary deal – a key step to secure the next funding tranche. That is the longest such gap since at least 2008.

Meanwhile foreign exchange reserves at $4.457 billion cover barely a month’s worth of imports.

JPMorgan analyst Milo Gunasinghe said little relief was in sight while the IMF programme remained stalled.

“The latest developments likely dampen any prospect of a political breakthrough across both sides,” Milo said.

The bank recently lowered its 2023 growth forecast for the country from 1.3 per cent to 0.1 per cent and warned of “stagflation shock” due to delays in the IMF talks, while the central bank hiked its key interest rate to a record 21 per cent to fight double-digit inflation.

At a local government bond auction on Wednesday, Pakistan was able to raise only Rs 63 bn ($222 million) against a target of Rs 100 bn ($350m) with the cut-off yield rising to nearly 20 per cent for three-year maturities.

The nuclear-armed nation faces the risk of a default unless it receives massive support. The gross public debt-to-GDP ratio stands at 73.5 per cent, according to government data as of December.

Hasnain Malik, head of equity research at London-based Tellimer, said unless martial law was imposed, there was no reason for the IMF to suspend discussions.

(Reuters)

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