Pakistan’s Finance Minister Ishaq Dar has found himself at the centre of a controversy for engaging in a heated exchange with a journalist, who accused the politician of slapping him over a question about the stalled IMF deal.
The incident occurred on Thursday when Dar was leaving the parliament premises after addressing a National Assembly session when he was approached by journalist Shahid Qureshi, the Dawn newspaper reported.
In a video that has gone viral on social media, the reporter can be seen asking Dar if he would be willing to talk and the minister responded he had just finished speaking.
Qureshi then inquired about the progress of the stalled International Monetary Fund (IMF) programme and referred to Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s recent meeting with IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva.
While Dar, 73, did not reply to the questions, the journalist persisted and questioned the government’s failure to secure the USD 1.1 billion deal from the Washington-based global lender.
Dar then retorted that the deal could not be cracked “because people like you are in the system”.
The journalist defending himself asserted that reporters were not part of the system but merely asked questions.
At this point, Dar became visibly angry and confronted the journalist, asking him what he wanted and telling him to “fear God”.Dar then attempted to snatch the journalist’s mobile phone and even instructed security personnel to seize and throw away the mobile phone, the report said.The finance minister’s security personnel then intervened and escorted Dar towards a vehicle in the parking lot.
The journalist later released another video in which he provided a detailed account of the incident and claimed that Dar’s security guards had grabbed him and the minister slapped him.
“They grabbed me from both sides after which Ishaq Dar slapped me,” the journalist claimed, adding that he had recorded the entire incident.
“While leaving, Dar told his security officers to follow me and teach me a lesson … those officers followed me till I reached the second floor of the Parliament….,” Qureshi added.
In response to the altercation, the Parliamentary Reporters Association (PRA), issuing a condemnation statement, expressed strong disapproval of the violence and disrespectful behaviour exhibited by Dar’s guards.
The PRA demanded an apology from the finance minister to the reporter and emphasised that such aggressive behaviour should not be repeated in the future.
They further stated that if Dar fails to apologise, the PRA reserves the right to walk out of the budget session and stage a protest. The association also called on National Assembly Speaker Raja Pervaiz Ashraf to take notice of the incident.
Dar’s frustration appears to stem from the government’s exhaustive efforts to secure the bailout package, as the IMF has yet to revive the expiring programme, scheduled to expire on June 30, the newspaper reported.
Pakistan has barely enough currency reserves to cover one month’s imports. It had hoped to have USD 1.1 billion of the funds released in November but the IMF has insisted on a number of conditions before it makes any more disbursements.
In a last-ditch effort, the prime minister on Thursday met IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva on the sidelines of a meeting in Paris.
The meeting between the premier and the global lender’s managing director comes as the country faces a steep fall in foreign loan disbursements to just USD 8.4 billion this fiscal year.