AP

Pakistan’s ex-premier Khan warns of economic ‘collapse’

Jul 19, 2022, 11:22 PM | Updated: Jul 20, 2022, 12:05 pm

ISLAMABAD (AP) — Pakistan’s former prime minister said Wednesday that the government of premier Shahbaz Sharif is mismanaging the country’s fragile economy.

Imran Khan’s remarks to journalists at his residence in Islamabad came hours after Pakistan’s currency plummeted to an all-time low of 225 rupees against the U.S. dollar, amid increasing political instability. The delay in the release of a crucial $1.17 billion installment from the International Monetary Fund to Islamabad has also added to the existing economic crisis.

The fund last week said it reached a preliminary agreement with Pakistan to revive the $6 billion bailout package. But the deal is subject to approval by the IMF’s executive board.

On Wednesday, Khan said he “worries” that Pakistan is teetering near an “economic collapse.” A spokesman for Sharif did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

He said a looming crisis “all started after my government was ousted.” He reiterated his call for snap elections, a demand already dismissed by Sharif and his allies.

Khan came into power following the 2018 parliamentary elections, but he lost a majority in the National Assembly in April when his allies and about two dozen lawmakers from his own Tehreek-e-Insaf party abandoned him.

Khan’s removal in April came amid his cooling relations with Pakistan’s powerful military, which many of Khan’s political opponents allege helped the former premier, Khan, come to power in general elections in 2018. The military has directly ruled Pakistan for more than half of its 75 years and wields considerable power over civilian governments.

Since his ouster, Khan has criticized the country’s powerful army chief, Qamar Javed Bajwa, saying he was also part of the greater plot aimed at removing him from power. The military has denied the charge.

Khan also insists his government was ousted under a U.S. plot, a charge Washington denies.

When Khan was in power, Pakistan’s foreign reserves rose to over $18 billion, which dipped to $10 billion recently. Khan says he can revive the country’s economy with the help of his team if he gets another chance in office.

In recent weeks, Sharif has slashed subsidies on fuel, electricity and natural gas to meet IMF’s conditions. It has made Sharif’s government highly unpopular and caused a spike in food prices.

Over the weekend, Sharif faced a major political setback when Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf party won elections in the country’s most populous province. Khan’s party won 15 seats out of 20 that were up for in the 371-member provincial assembly in Sunday’s vote.

That brings the overall number of seats held by Khan’s party and their allies in the chamber in Punjab to 188. He needs 186 lawmakers’ backing to rule the Punjab province. On Friday, the Punjab Assembly will elect its new chief minister to replace Prime Minister Sharif’s son Hamza Shahbaz who currently holds the post.

On Wednesday, Khan reiterated his demand for the snap vote.

“The only solution to the current political and economic problems is the holding of fresh elections,” he said.

But Sharif and his allies have rejected Khan’s demand, saying the next elections will be held as per the schedule next year. They also blame Khan for the current economic crisis.

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