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Pakistan’s Imran Khan expresses support for bailout deal in IMF meeting

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By Gibran Naiyyar Peshimam

KARACHI, Pakistan (Reuters) -Pakistan’s main opposition leader and former prime minister Imran Khan expressed support for a recently-reached bailout deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) after a meeting with officials of the lender on Friday, his party said.

The IMF said it was, in the lead up to national elections in the autumn, seeking the support of Pakistan’s political parties, including Khan’s, for the new nine-month $3 billion stand-by arrangement and policies associated with the programme.

Hammad Azhar, a former finance minister under Khan, who attended the meeting virtually, said in a post on Twitter that the former premier and his economic team had discussed last week’s staff-level deal between the IMF and Pakistan’s government.

“In this context we support the overall objectives and key policies,” Azhar said, adding the meeting at Khan’s residence in the eastern city of Lahore was attended in person by IMF officials while Mission Chief Nathan Porter joined virtually.

Earlier, the IMF’s resident representative Esther Perez Ruiz said in a statement that the meetings with political parties were to “seek assurances of their support for the key objectives and policies under a new IMF-supported program ahead of the approaching national elections.”

The new deal, which will be vital to help stabilise Pakistan’s struggling $350 billion economy, will be taken up for approval by the IMF board on July 12.

The programme looks to replace a four-year Extended Financing Facility programme, originally signed by Khan’s government in 2019, and which expired last month.

Khan’s government deviated from agreements under an earlier IMF programme days before he was ousted in a parliamentary vote last year, leading to a delay in the implementation of the programme and increased economic uncertainty.

Pakistan’s national elections are scheduled to be held by early November amid a charged political atmosphere that has seen Khan, the country’s main opposition leader, in a bruising standoff with the government and the powerful military.

‘POLITICAL STABILITY KEY’

The new programme will span three governments – the incumbent set up under Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, whose term ends in August, a caretaker administration that will conduct the polls, and then a new government following the elections.

Azhar said the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) party believed political stability was key for the economy and called for “free, fair and timely” elections after which a new government would initiate reforms and engage on a longer-term basis with multilateral institutions.

Despite being the country’s most popular leader according to polls, Khan faces the prospect of being disqualified from the elections if found guilty in any of the cases against him since his removal from power.

The meeting is the highest profile engagement for Khan and his the PTI since he was ousted from power less than four years into his five-year term.

He said the cases are a bid to sideline him and dismantle his party before the polls. The government and military deny this, and say the cases are on merit.

The government launched a country-wide crackdown on the party in the aftermath of violent protests that followed Khan’s brief arrest in May. The protests saw military installations ransacked. Khan was later released on bail.

Many of Khan’s key aides remain under arrest and many others, like Azhar, are in hiding. Azhar said some of PTI’s economic team members attended the meeting virtually.

(Reporting by Gibran Peshimam; Editing by William Maclean and David Holmes)

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