Pakistan’s ousted Prime Minister Imran Khan said he’s confident of returning to power this year, and would back a continued role for the International Monetary Fund to prop up the economy and stave off a growing risk of a debt default.
The former cricket star, who was removed from office in a confidence vote last year, said in an interview that he expects to win a majority when elections are held — likely sometime after August. Khan and his party had a mixed showing in recent by-elections and local polls, and he would face an uphill task with a national vote where the winner will need the support of the powerful military establishment to take power.
Khan said he’s preparing a “radical” plan to shore up an economy that he predicts will be in even worse shape by then.
“If we get into power, we won’t have much time,” the 70-year-old politician said at his residence in Lahore in Punjab province, where he’s recovering from a leg injury sustained when he was shot at a protest in November. Asked if his plan would involve sticking with the IMF — whose accord for about $6.5 billion of lending to Pakistan has seen multiple delays — he said: “We have no choice now.”
The South Asian nation slid dangerously close to a debt default in recent months, driving its bond yields to distressed levels, as IMF loan payments were held up. Khan’s successor, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, has been wary of the fund’s demands, like raising energy prices and taxes. Pakistan’s foreign-exchange reserves have slumped by half since October, and they’re now insufficient to pay for one month’s imports.
The country is also still reeling from the impact catastrophic flooding last year, and suffering from surging inflation.
“We will have to make policies like never before in our country,” Khan said. “We fear a Sri Lanka-type situation,” he said, referring to the default in Pakistan’s regional neighbor.
He said he would reappoint Shaukat Tarin as finance minister, after he held the post in the previous Khan administration.
Khan has taken to the streets since he was pushed out of office, leading protests aimed at pushing Sharif’s government to call early elections.
In one of his government’s last major decisions, Khan lowered fuel prices — triggering a dispute that stalled the IMF program. The ex-premier said his decision was based on getting discounted fuel from Russia.