ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s finance minister Miftah Ismail confirmed on Sunday he was facing opposition and criticism from the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party since he had become the face of unpopular economic decisions taken by the government, though some of his senior colleagues openly came to his rescue as well.
Ismail, a former International Monetary Fund (IMF) employee and the owner of Pakistan’s largest confectionary company, was handed the finance portfolio by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif in April when the country’s cash-strapped economy was facing multiple crises.
With a mounting import bill and dwindling foreign currency reserves, the finance minister was forced to raise the prices of petroleum products four times in little over one month while trying to revive a $6 billion IMF loan program.
His political woes were further compounded by media reports about the possible return of Pakistan’s former finance minister Ishaq Dar from self-imposed exile in London, creating some speculation that Ismail may ultimately have to step down and make space for his senior party colleague.
“I have support from the federal cabinet and PML-N but there are few party members criticizing and opposing me,” he was quoted by Pakistan’s Express Tribune newspaper.
The finance minister acknowledged he was under tremendous pressure, adding he did not want to hold his last press conference in which he announced increase in the petroleum product prices. However, he informed it was the prime minister who convinced him otherwise.
“I swear it has never happened that I was unable to find suitable words,” he said. “I kept thinking what words should I be using to start the press conference.”
Asked if he was willing to be replaced by Dar, he said it was the prime minister’s prerogative to make such decisions.
“I know only one thing that I would comply with whatever decision the prime minister takes within the next 15 minutes of becoming aware of it,” he said.
He maintained he would continue to be with the party and support its decisions even if he was removed from the post.
However, he got some support from defense minister Khawaja Asif on Saturday who said Miftah was “among the hardest working members of the PM’s team” who was performing “well under difficult circumstances.”
Asif asked other PML-N members to “show solidarity” with the finance minister.
Another PML-N stalwart and former prime minister of the country Shahid Khaqan Abbasi agreed with him, saying Ismail’s knowledge of Pakistan’s economy was “without parallel in Pakistan[‘s] politics today.”
“He is one of the most effective members of PM’s cabinet,” Abbasi continued. “He has played a crucial role in saving Pakistan from default and in implementing PMLN’s economic reform agenda.”