Is Imran Khan’s economic vision achievable?

July 30, 2018

Imran Khan, chairman of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) gestures while addressing his supporters during a campaign meeting ahead of general elections in Islamabad, Pakistan. Photo: Reuters

The economic vision of upcoming prime minister Imran Khan is alluring. He aims to fight corruption, reform government spending and improve the lives of the poor. Given the demands that are likely to come with any bailout of the $300 billion economy, that’s fanciful.

Khan’s ambitions echo those of Pakistan’s larger neighbours. Chinese President Xi Jinping has led an aggressive anti-corruption campaign and India’s Narendra Modi was elected with a similar pledge.

Khan has a weaker mandate, needs to form a coalition, and has fewer financial resources at his disposal.

The World Bank sees the economy growing at just five percent in the current fiscal year. Foreign exchange reserves cover barely two months of imports in a country that depends on foreign energy supplies. The central bank has raised interest rates by 175 basis points this year and the rupee has been devalued four times since December.

A plan to increase welfare spending more than four-fold is unlikely to be implemented if Pakistan seeks support from the International Monetary Fund.

The country has tapped the fund more than 10 times in its history. Capital Economics reckons any support package will require the rupee to fall by another 10 percent by the end of the year, and interest rates to rise another 100 basis points.