WASHINGTON - Pakistan has officially sought financial assistance from the International Monetary Fund and talks on a loan programme will begin in the next few days, IMF Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn said on Wednesday. "A fund mission will begin discussions with the authorities within the next few days on a programme aimed at strengthening economic stability and enhancing confidence in the financial system," Strauss-Kahn said in a statement. But it added, 'the amount of fund financing under a standby arrangement has yet to be determined. Financing could be made within the framework of the Fund's emergency financing mechanism'. IMF and Pakistani authorities have been meeting in Dubai since Tuesday to discuss details of the country's financial restructuring plan. Pakistan needs financing in the region of  $3 billion to $4 billion to avoid defaulting on debts. The Washington-based IMF has estimated that Pakistan has unmet funding needs of around $4b. Pakistan has been badly hit by soaring global oil and food prices over the past year. Shahbaz Rana from Islamabad adds: Pakistan has finally requested International Monetary Fund for discussions on an economic programme to overcome Balance of Payments problem, which the experts term 'just a step away from the formal programme', certainly leading to acceptance of severe conditions. The IMF, quoting its Managing Director, Strauss Kahn said that "The Pakistani authorities have requested discussions with the IMF on an economic programme supported by financial assistance from the Fund to meet the balance of payments difficulties the country is experiencing as a result of high food and fuel prices and the global financial crisis". However, the Finance Ministry sources from Dubai told TheNation that Pakistan was not going to the IMF programme at the moment and would only use the option as a last resort. The Pakistani authorities and the IMF have entered into talks under the Article-IV of the Fund in Dubai. The economists estimate $5 billion emergency aid to meet the immediate Balance of Payments needs and avoid default on sovereign debt of $500 million due for repayment by February 2009. After getting disappointed from all sides, the government has requested the Fund for discussions on an economic programme with a financial assistance package. The IMF said the Fund will extend financing under a standby arrangement and the extent of the financial support will be determined during next few days. It says, 'Financing could be made within framework of the Fund's Emergency Financing Mechanism'. A Fund mission will begin discussions with the authorities in the next few days on a programme aimed at strengthening economic stability and enhancing confidence in the financial system. The amount of Fund financing under a Standby Arrangement has yet to be determined. The likely conditions that Pakistan have to accept include, complete abolition of subsidies on oil and electricity, free market mechanism for agriculture products rates, new taxes, devaluation of rupee and interest rate hike. It will also seek a cut on development expenditure. The economists fear that acceptance of the Fund programme would slow down economic growth.   Pakistan is facing a severe problem of Balance of Payments. Its Current Account Deficit in just first three months of the current fiscal year has shot up by $3.9 billion and the reserves were eroding by an average of $1 billion a month. The total amount of foreign currency in Pakistani banks has fallen by more than half since last year and currently stands at $7.75 billion. The Advisor to Prime Minister on Finance and Revenue, Shaukat Tarin, had said if Pakistan could not get assistance from both the multilateral donors and Friends of Pakistan, then the country would enter into the IMF programme. "Pakistan will have to go to the IMF," said Dr Qaiser Bengali, the renowned economist who first in 2004 predicted that the country would again go back to the IMF programme. He said entering into the discussions for the Programme meant, "You were just a step away from the formal programme". However, he said after going into the IMF the government may or may not opt the financial assistance, as the IMF stamp would enter the doors of the other donors, which otherwise were reluctant to give loan to the sinking economy. Credible sources in the Finance Ministry told TheNation that during the annual WB-IMF meetings, both the bilateral and multilateral donors, refused to extend loans to Pakistan and asked the authorities to "come through the IMF". Dr Qaiser Bengali made former Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz responsible for the current economic crisis. "He let the trade deficit to widen". He said Shaukat Aziz kept financing the trade deficit through capital inflows, which in the longer run was not sustainable. He should have curtailed the imports of luxury items and some raw material, he added. Monitoring Desk adds: According to the diplomatic sources, IMF has agreed to fund the Pakistan's ailing economy with the amount of $6 billion. Pakistan was forced to seek help of IMF as the country that has run out of options, reports caymanmama.com. The decision of seeking help from IMF, as cited by the Pakistani officials, would be unpopular with the public and would send negative signals about Pakistan situation and its credit worthiness.