Aurangzeb to meet Donald Lu in US next week

Minister scheduled to hold talks with IMF, WB bosses

Shahbaz Rana April 09, 2024
Muhammad Aurangzeb(left), Finance minister of Pakistan and Donald Lu(right), Assistant Secretary Bureau Of South And Central Asian Affairs. PHOTO: FILE


Finance Minister Muhammad Aurangzeb would meet with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva in Washington next week but his interactions with the United States officials might remain at a junior level.

Sources told The Express Tribune, that Aurangzeb was scheduled to meet with United States Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia Donald Lu – a fourth-tier official in the US administration. The minister might also meet with the US Deputy Under Secretary of Treasury – a third-tier official in the US administration.

The Pakistani delegation, comprising Finance Minister Aurangzeb, State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) Governor Jameel Ahmad, Finance Secretary Imdad Ullah Bosal and Economic Affairs Division Secretary Dr Kazim Niaz, would visit Washington from April 13 to 21 to attend World Bank-IMF Spring meetings.

Pakistan’s external financing requirements for the next fiscal year would hover above $25 billion, which the country plans to bridge with the help of all the multilateral and some bilateral creditors.

Pakistan has decided to use these spring meetings as an opportunity to formally request the IMF for sending a mission to Pakistan to begin negotiations for the medium-term Extended Fund Facility (EFF).

The mission is expected to arrive Pakistan after the completion of the current programme this month.
However, days before leaving for Washington to request the IMF for a large size and a longer duration bailout package, the minister authorised grant of honorariums, equal to four salaries, to all the officers serving in the Prime Minister’s Office. His action is contrary to the dire financial straits of Pakistan.

By granting untimely honorariums to already highly-paid section of bureaucrats, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and the finance minister had lost the high moral grounds to appeal to the people to bear the brunt of the upcoming IMF programme.

The US holds sway over the IMF management. US Ambassador to Pakistan Donald Blome has in the recent past highlighted the role of the US government in Pak-IMF programme. The sources said that the meetings with Georgieva and the Lu might take place on the same, day but at different venues.

The level of the US assistant secretary is equal to Pakistan’s mid-tier bureaucrat. In the US hierarchy, a secretary is the counterpart of a Pakistani federal minister. The secretary is followed by deputy secretary, undersecretary and then assistant secretary.

In the past, Pakistani finance ministers used to meet, either with the US secretary or at least with the deputy secretary. But the US downgraded the level of these meetings about six years ago.

Donald Lu became a household name in Pakistan after former prime minister Imran Khan blamed him for hatching a conspiracy to ouster him from the power. Last month, Lu rubbished Imran claims, while testifying in a subcommittee of the Committee on Foreign Affairs in the US House of Representatives.

According to the sources, Elizabeth Horst, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary at the US State Department, responsible for Pakistan, would also meet with the finance minister and the Pakistani team. Another important meeting would be with Brent Neiman, the deputy undersecretary of US Treasury Department for International Finance and Development.

Separately, Aurangzeb would also meet with Jihad Azour, the IMF Director for Middle East and Central Asia Department, who is responsible for Pakistan-IMF relations, besides interacting with the IMF’s Fiscal Affairs Department, in which broader contours of the next IMF programme were likely to be discussed.

The finance minister would also meet with the Ajay Banga, the president of the World Bank Group, Hiroshi Matano, the executive vice president of the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA) –an arm of the World Bank Group.

The Pakistani delegation was also scheduled to meet with Hela Cheikhrouhou, the regional vice president of the International Finance Corporation (IFC) – another World Bank arm; Axel Van Trotsenburg, senior World Bank managing director; and Makhtar Diop, the IFC managing director.
Finance Minister Aurangzeb might take up the issue of budget support loans with Martin Raiser, the vice president of the World Bank for South Asia; and Masatsugu Asakawa, the president of the Asian Development Bank.

Aurangzeb would also meet with Saudi Finance Minister Mohammed Al-Jadaan, Saudi Fund for Development (SFD) CEO Sultan Abdulrahman Al-Marshad; and Mohamed bin Hadi Al Hussaini, the minister of state for financial affairs of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), said the sources.

On the sidelines of the spring meetings, Aurangzeb would speak at the Atlantic Council about the opportunities and challenges for the Pakistani economy. He would also attend a JP Morgan seminar on Pakistan’s economic outlook.

At home, Aurangzeb keeps facing one after another challenge. The prime minister has also not appointed him as the chairman of the Cabinet Committee on Inter-Governmental Commercial Transactions.

In his place, Minister for Defence, Khawaja Asif has been made the chairman of the cabinet committee, which is responsible for negotiating government-to-government deals with foreign countries.


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