Govt returned ’empty handed’ from trips to friendly countries, says Asad Umar

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ISLAMABAD, MAY 15: PTI leader and former planning minister Asad Umar on Sunday claimed that no foreign country was willing to offer support to the incumbent government, saying Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif returned “empty-handed” from trips seeking to secure financial support to prop up Pakistan’s ailing economy.

PM Shehbaz and members of his cabinet had embarked on their first foreign trip to Saudi Arabia since coming to power. During his three-day visit, he met Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and other officials.

A joint statement at the conclusion of the trip said the two countries agreed to discuss extending the term of a $3 billion loan to help Pakistan’s new government tide over the prevailing economic crisis.

PM Shehbaz later went to the UAE, following which a joint statement said the two countries expressed their desire to strengthen “bilateral economic cooperation”.

Late last month, the new government also resumed talks with the IMF to revive its stalled programme, with negotiations being led by Finance Minister Miftah Ismail. In a talk at the Atlantic Council, he said he agreed with a key demand of the IMF to remove fuel subsidies — instituted by the PTI. “They’ve talked about removing the subsidy on fuel. I agree with them,” Ismail had said.

He had also blamed the PTI for “ruining the economy”.

Weeks later, the government has appeared to be reluctant on doing away with the costly subsidies, which is estimated to haemorrhage cash to the tune of another Rs75 billion over the next fortnight.

In his presser today, Asad Umar said: “No countries including China, Saudi Arabia, UAE — even the International Monetary Fund — are giving money to Pakistan.”

He quoted experts as saying that the situation in Pakistan was bleak and it was just “weeks away from a Sri Lanka-like situation”.

The ex-minister claimed Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif was “clueless” and did not have the courage to take decisions. “Finance Minister Miftah Ismail is looking at Shehbaz, who is looking at Ishaq Dar, who is reliant on Nawaz Sharif, while the convicted former PM, in turn, is hopelessly looking at Zardari… and the cycle goes on.”

He claimed Zardari was “enjoying” the current situation the most in which PM Shehbaz is completely “helpless”.