Pakistan’s military chief has reportedly asked the United States for help in securing an early International Monetary Fund loan as high energy import prices push the South Asian country to the brink of a payments crisis.

Earlier this week, Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa spoke by phone with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and raised the issue, government sources told VOA Friday night on condition of anonymity.

Last week, Pakistan reached an agreement with the IMF to renew a multibillion-dollar aid package. However, the deal must be approved by the lender’s board, which is scheduled to meet at the end of August. Islamabad is expected to receive about $4.2 billion under the loan program, starting with an initial tranche of about $1.2 billion.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Asim Iftikhar Ahmad confirmed the phone call between Bajwa and Sherman but did not share details.

“Well, I understand that the conversation took place, but at this stage I don’t know directly about the content of that discussion,” Ahmad said at a weekly news conference in Islamabad.

A State Department spokesman in Washington would not directly confirm whether the conversion had taken place.

“U.S. officials regularly speak with Pakistani officials on a number of issues. As is our usual practice, we do not comment on the specifics of private diplomatic negotiations,” the spokesperson told VOA.

Nikkei Asia first reported on Friday about the Bajwa-Sherman contact, which said the Pakistani army chief had asked the White House and the Treasury Department to use their leverage to expedite the loan. The US is the largest shareholder of the IMF.

“Yes,” Islamabad sources said when asked if the two officials had discussed the issue of the IMF loan. However, the results of Bajwa’s appeal were not immediately known.

Critics have attributed the delay in the loan to Pakistan’s track record of failing to deliver on important economic reform commitments.

FILE – The seal of the International Monetary Fund is seen in Washington on January 10, 2022.

Late Friday, Bajwa also spoke by phone with Gen. Michael Eric Kuril, commander of the US Central Command.

The Army’s media wing, in a statement, quoted its chief as telling Kurila that Pakistan “values ​​its relationship with (the US) and we sincerely hope to strengthen mutually beneficial cross-industry relations based on common interests.”

The statement quoted the US commander as pledging to “play his role to further enhance cooperation with Pakistan at all levels”.

Approval of the IMF program is key to Pakistan’s access to other sources of financing for the country, including the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.

Pakistan’s central bank’s foreign currency reserves have dwindled to about $8.5 billion, barely enough to cover weeks of imports, and its currency has fallen to historic lows against the US dollar in recent days, while inflation has hit its highest level in more than for ten years.

Shortly after the IMF deal, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s coalition government said it would receive the first tranche of $1.17 billion “very soon.”

But Sharif is under increasing pressure from ousted Prime Minister Imran Khan, who is demanding the government resign and hold snap general elections in Pakistan.

Khan criticized Bajwa for reaching out to Washington, saying “talking to the US on financial matters is not part of the army chief’s job”. The ousted prime minister said in an interview with local TV channel ARY that the army chief’s move showed that neither the IMF nor foreign governments trusted Shehbaz’s administration.

However, analysts note that both civilian and military leaders in Pakistan have traditionally maintained economic relations with Washington, citing the military’s role in Pakistani politics and foreign policy.

Khan alleges that Shehbaz colluded with Washington to orchestrate the ouster of his government in a parliamentary confidence vote in April, prompted in part by rising inflation. The US denies the accusations.

The former prime minister also indirectly accused the military chief of playing a role in his ouster, allegations the army dismisses as politically motivated.

Khan and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party are campaigning hard to stage a comeback in the next election, expected to be held in October. The opposition leader has organized and addressed massive anti-government rallies across Pakistan since his ouster.

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