Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) Secretary General Asad Umar and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) Finance Minister Taimur Khan Jhagra defended the letter concerning the International Monetary Fund's (IMF) conditions while addressing the matter related to two audio leaks of PTI Senator and former finance minister Shaukat Tarin.
Attributed to Tarin, K-P Finance Minister Taimur Jhagra and Punjab Finance Minister Sardar Awais Ahmad Khan Leghari, the telephonic conversation revealed that the two ministers were asked to “tell the IMF that the commitment made to them cannot be fulfilled” and to cite the recent devastation cause by floods in the country as the reason behind it.
At a press conference in Islamabad today, Jhagra acknowledged the authenticity of a letter penned to the IMF three days earlier by the K-P government whereby the international money lender was informed that the province would not be able to meet the agreed upon budget surplus.
The letter came three days before the all-important executive board meeting of the IMF was to be held in Washington where the provision of credit to Pakistan’s bailout package is being considered.
Pinning the province’s inability to meet the surplus target on the former Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) merger with K-P province and related administrative concerns, the minister said, “I own the letter” and “I wrote it myself” and requested the federal government to resolve the budgetary issue.
Defending the leaked conversation in a press conference, Umar said that there was “nothing wrong” with Tarin “advising” the ministers as he “understands the country’s economy” and that the request was in fact “needed” considering the current natural disaster the country faces.
In an attempt to “make the people aware of the facts,” the PTI leader alleged that the government was guilty of “cutting, pasting and editing” the leaked audio.
Umar argued that Tarin had merely “told both ministers to tell the federal government they should go back to the IMF and inform them that we have been hit by floods and face extraordinary circumstances”.
“Can anybody claim the advice isn’t good?” retorted Umar as he held that the ministers had been asked to seek concessions in the previously signed budget surplus agreement and added that the decision was in line with party chief Imran Khan’s policy during the Covid-19 pandemic as well.
Shying away from confirming Tarin’s remarks upon questioning from reporters however, Umar said “why can’t you ask the IMF to give some space this year to use our money for flood-related expenses” when “Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif is asking countries for funds to provide relief to the flood affectees”.
Meanwhile, former Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari also defended the leaked conversation saying that “there is nothing illegal or wrong in the conversation”.
So audio call btwn Tarin & prov FM leaked. There is nothing illegal or wrong in the convo. We have publicly opposed the terms on which imported govt is taking loan from #IMF. But what is illegal is the wire tapping done on conversation without court order. A criminal offence.— Shireen Mazari (@ShireenMazari1) August 29, 2022
She instead criticized the “wiretapping” that made the audio leak possible in the first place.
Whose ‘harming the state’?
In the audio leak that surfaced on social media on Monday morning, PTI Senator Shaukat Tarin was allegedly heard telling Leghari that “the 750 billion commitment that was signed by all of you [ministers] was made before the floods” and that “a lot of money needs to be spent due to the floods”.
“Write to them [the government] that now we will not be able to fulfill the commitment,” says the voice allegedly attributed to Tarin before adding, “then we will release it to IMF representatives also”.
“We will make the scenario so that it will not be apparent that we are hurting the state, we all want that they are pressurised. They are putting us behind bars, accusing us of terrorism [while] remaining spot-free themselves,” Tarin allegedly said, “this cannot be permitted”.
Another voice, reportedly of Punjab Finance Minister Mohsin Leghari can then be heard expressing concern over how this might “hurt the state”. To which, Tarin asks, “Is the way they are treating the chairman and others not harming the state?”.
Later during the conversation, Tarin is said to have asked the K-P finance minister if he has drafted “the letter” and he in reply allegedly said “I will do it right away, I have an older letter”.
Tarin then goes on to direct Jhagra that “the first point in the letter must be that the floods have absolutely devastated K-P [and] we need a lot of money to provide aid to the flood-affected areas; I have told the Punjab finance minister the same”.
Jhagra can then apparently be heard saying “this is a blackmailing tactic, by the way,” before adding “nobody is going to let the money go like that; I am not letting the money go, don’t know whether Leghari will or not”.
It may be noted that the IMF is to take a decision about the country’s bailout package today, after the seventh and eighth reviews of Pakistan while the country has applied for a one-year extension in the programme period till June next year.