Pakistan’s ousted Prime Minister Imran Khan said he is confident he will return to power this year and would support a continued role for the International Monetary Fund to support the economy and a growing risk of default to avert.
The former cricketer, who was removed from office by a vote of confidence last year, said in an interview that he expects to secure a majority when an election is held – probably sometime after August. He said he is preparing a “radical” plan to prop up an economy that he predicts will be even worse by then.
“If we come to power, we don’t have much time,” said the 70-year-old Khan at his residence in Lahore, where he is recovering from a leg injury sustained when he was shot at a protest in November. Asked if his plan includes staying with the IMF — whose deal for about $6.5 billion in loans to Pakistan has faced multiple delays — he said, “We don’t have a choice right now.”
The South Asian nation has slipped dangerously close to a debt burden in recent months, driving bond yields to distressed levels as IMF loan payments have been held up. Khan’s successor, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, was wary of the fund’s demands, such as raising energy prices and taxes. Pakistan’s foreign exchange reserves have halved since October and are now insufficient to pay for a month’s worth of imports.
The country is also still reeling from the effects of last year’s catastrophic floods and suffering from rising inflation.
“We will have to make policies like never before in our country,” Khan said. “We fear a Sri Lanka-like situation,” he said, referring to the default in Pakistan’s regional neighbour.
He said he would reappoint Shaukat Tarin as finance minister, having held the position in the previous Khan government.
Khan has taken to the streets since he was removed from office, leading protests to push Sharif’s government to call early elections.
In one of his administration’s last major decisions, Khan slashed fuel prices, sparking a dispute that stalled the IMF’s program. The ex-premier said his decision was based on getting discounted fuel from Russia. Khan was in Moscow on a previously scheduled visit the day Russia invaded Ukraine in February last year. In a three-hour talk, President Vladimir Putin promised to help Pakistan with energy supplies, Khan said in the interview.
He said he will pursue an independent foreign policy that does not lean on a single country like the US or China. He gave the example of arch-rival India, which enjoys friendly relations with the US, but still imports oil from Russia at a discount and trades with China.
Khan said he had an excellent relationship with former President Donald Trump, but ties deteriorated under his successor. “It wasn’t until Joe Biden came along that I somehow discovered there was some reluctance there,” he said, adding that he believes it happened because the US needed someone to blame for his departure from Afghanistan.
Khan came to power in 2018 as an outsider in a country where politics was largely dominated by dynasties and the powerful military. While his rise to the premiership was seen as the blessing of the military establishment, his departure was marked by a breakdown in that relationship.
In his latest push to push for quick polls, the former cricket star’s allies have dissolved two of the country’s four provincial assemblies. That led to elections in those provinces, which were historically held in parallel with a nationwide vote.
Khan said he believes the national elections could be manipulated to keep him out of power. He referred to his resignation from office as “regime change”, saying Sharif’s governing coalition and some members of the country’s establishment are “scared” because “they were part of the regime change. We know exactly who was responsible for it.”
Pakistan’s government spokesman and the army’s media department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Khan’s comments.
Khan, who has heavy security outside his residence, said he still believes his life is in danger. He has blamed Prime Minister Sharif and an intelligence officer for the attack. Both have rejected the claim.
“Right now I’m afraid I have powerful enemies,” Khan said. “The whole political status quo is against me.”
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