Ishaq Dar’s tenure as Finance Minister of Pakistan (2013-18): A brief history

Muhammad Ishaq Dar, a former member of the Senate of Pakistan between 2003-2018, and has served as the Federal Minister for Finance under the Pakistan Muslim League (N)’s government from 2013 to 2018, announced in June of this year that he is ‘likely’ to return to Pakistan. The 72-year-old former minister was previously indicted for playing a key role in a 2017 corruption case: “having assets beyond known means”.

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Prior to entering into politics in the 1980s, Dar was known as a professional chartered accountant in private and public sector organizations. In 2003, he entered the Pakistan Senate. After the coalition government came into formation, following the 2008 general elections, Dar was briefly appointed as the minister of finance for a second time under premier Yousaf Raza Gillani.

With his re-appointment in 2013, Dar became the finance minister for the third time, under the leadership of the PML-N government led by then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. During this term, he served until the cabinet was dissolved after the removal of Sharif as the premier in July 2017. He was once again inducted into the cabinet under PM Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, however, he resigned in November 2017.

As PML-N came into power following the 2013 elections, Dar resigned from his position as Opposition leader in Senate and joined the federal government as finance minister under Nawaz Sharif’s leadership. In 2014, he became the Chairman of the Special Parliamentary Committee on election reforms, and the Economic Coordination Committee. The extent of his power was such that he was dubbed the “de facto” deputy PM of Pakistan. This was mainly because Dar and Sharif had close family ties, given that Dar’s son is married to Sharif’s daughter. During this time, Dar served as the chairman of nearly forty-five committees. He was rightfully considered the most powerful member of the PML-N cabinet.

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The extent of their close ties was as such that Dar even overlooked essential government matters in Nawaz Sharif’s absence when the latter had to undergo heart surgery in the UK in 2016.

Moreover, it was a testament to his power at the time that Dar was cleared of corruption charges in 2016, in connection to the Rs.130 billion corruption. Although, he had previously stated that he was facing “corruption” claims, the fact that the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) cleared his name was in direct contradiction with what Dar had been saying. Additionally, while the NAB closed the case, they added Dar’s name to the list of mega-corruption cases list that includes as many as one hundred and seventy-nine cases. Reports at the time also claimed that Dar had been cleared of charges because there was “immense pressure” from within the organization to clear Ishaq Dar’s name despite having sufficient evidence to indict him.

Then in 2016, the government made claims that Dar had been declared “Finance Minister of the Year” for South Asia, however, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) issued a statement denying the claims. The IMF asserted that the newspaper that published the news had no connection to their organization but was in fact an independent publication. It was later revealed that five state-owned firms within Pakistan had links to the newspaper.

After which Dar was disqualified from holding a position in the office on 28th July 2017 by the Supreme Court of Pakistan following which, then-PM Nawaz Sharif was also disqualified for being linked to the infamous Panama Papers case. Then in August 2017, Dar’s power was limited by removing him from the chairman of nearly thirty-five NA committees.

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Nonetheless, in September 2017, he was indicted by Nab in the Panama Papers corruption case citing reasons that Dar held assets more than his declared means of income. This is when he declared dedication to continuing his professional duties as serving finance minister but he left for Saudi Arabia shortly after, before moving to the UK for “treatment”. While he was still in the UK, a Pakistani court issued a non-bailable arrest warrant for him as he had failed to appear before the court due to his illness, and on the 21st of November, he has been declared an absconder.

Nonetheless, during his third tenure as the finance minister, Dar has been the driving force behind many policies that helped to stabilize Pakistan’s already unstable economy between 2013-2016. The economic policies presented by him have been commended by the international community, namely the media and experts who believed that Dar had been instrumental in reviving the economy. However, in 2017, Dar was declared a ‘proclaimed offender’ for corruption after he failed to appear before the court. He has eventually been declared a fugitive.

According to a report published in Arab News, despite being lauded for supposedly getting the country out of debt, Dar “faced widespread criticism for his refusal to allow the rupee to weaken to ease macroeconomic pressures. He was also accused of eroding the central bank’s independence”.

In May 2022, while speaking with media personnel Dar claimed, “We have to run the country and not ruin it by taking dictations”. Meanwhile, according to a report by Business Insider, Dar has also accused the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) government knew what it was doing and that PTI is behind the approximately 4bn loss faced by Pakistan. Dar said, “PTI government knew it was going that’s why they

decreased the price of petroleum”.

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Recent reports of his possible return to power, as the latest finance minister succeeding Miftah Ismail, economist Shahrukh Wani has stated that Dar “is never the answer”. He argued that during his previous tenure, Dar had proven to be an inefficient finance minister and that with “the current macro environment, the consequence of his typical economic management will be much worse for Pakistan.”

Wani further argued that under his watch between 2013-2017, Pakistan had experienced a significant decline in exports both in terms of gross domestic product (GDP) and US dollar, respectively.

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